Facebook's Telecom Infra Project is a year old

In its first year, the project has grown from five to over 450 members, and hopes to cut the cost of an ever-growing range of infrastructure technologies



Facebook's Telecom Infra Project is already pulling in a significant proportion of the world's telecommunications industry, just a year after it launched with the goal of dramatically cutting the cost of building networks needed to get the next billion users online.

In that time, it has grown from five members to 450, and now encompasses technologies for delivering internet access by fiber, Wi-Fi, 2G and 4G networks, relay towers, drones, and satellites.

Although the open technologies it is developing are aimed at cutting the cost of connecting users in developing markets, savvy network operators and in some cases even enterprises will be able to use them to lower costs overall.

Facebook's head of engineering and infrastructure, Jay Parikh, gave reporters a run-down on the project's latest initiatives at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday.

The first, Voyager, is an open optical transponder and routing system that operators can customize to fit their own networks. That means they're not stuck with a one-size-fits-all commercial system, Parikh said. Since Voyager was announced at a TIP meeting last November, "Major telcos are conducting trials and preparing deployments in their infrastructure," Parikh said. Swedish network operator Telia has said it will conduct a test over a 1000 kilometer route in its production network, while French operator Orange is now evaluating the technology.

OpenCellular began life as a Facebook project to develop open infrastructure to build a 2G (GSM) cellular network. This is the technology the vast majority of Facebook's Indian users still use to connect to the service, according to a map Parikh showed. More recently, though, Cavium has contributed designs for open 4G networking equipment, which the vendor is exhibiting at the show, while test automation specialist Keysight has contributed open-source test software to help standardization and adoption of open 4G networks.

"All of our connectivity technologies that we work on should be an order of magnitude cheaper than the existing commercial solutions," he said. "The folks working on Voyager or Open Cellular are able to bring an offering to telcos that they wouldn't sell or buy otherwise."

While existing vendors are contributing designs and resources to help lower the overall cost of connectivity, Facebook wants to see new companies participating too. One obstacle to that is slowness of the innovation cycle when working with telecommunications operators, according to Parikh.

"It takes a long time to build a product and get it adopted by telcos," he said.

To speed up that cycle, TIP is providing technical assistance to a London-based venture capital fund with US$170 million to invest in startups focused on telecom infrastructure, and in partnership with U.K. operator BT has created its first startup acceleration center in Europe: TIP already has one in South Korea.

"The U.K. fund will help entrepreneurs get funded, hire people and build their ideas," Parikh said. "We should see a lot more interest now from entrepreneurs in coming into the telco space."

Many of the technologies that TIP is working on are about connecting subscribers over the "last mile" -- or at least the last few tens of kilometers from the nearest radio transmitter. But, Parikh said, there's another bottleneck that operators need to solve: backhaul. This is the carrying of data between wireless base stations and the core network, and generally involves either point-to-point microwave or laser links, or fiber connections.

In northwestern Uganda, Facebook is working with two network operators, Bandwidth and Cloud Services Group (BCS) and Airtel Uganda, to construct a 770-kilometer fiber to backhaul traffic from existing 2G and future 3G and 4G networks serving around 3 million people.

"Because it will be operated on an open model, other operators will be able to jump on and use the capacity," Parikh said. For one operator to build it alone, he said, the cost would have been prohibitive.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?