Facebook unveils its new open wireless access platform 'OpenCellular'

07 Jul 2016 | By Akriti Asthana
Facebook seeks to improve connectivity through "OpenCellular"

In a fresh attempt to improve connectivity in remote areas, Facebook announced an open source and cost effective, software-defined wireless platform.

It's a small wireless access point which supports a variety of communication options-from 2G to Long Term Evolution(LTE) and WiFi.

Open-sourcing the hardware and software designs would lower costs and allow customization of the platform.

The initial version will be available in summer.

In context: Facebook seeks to improve connectivity through "OpenCellular"

Internet and cellular connectivity around the world

By the end of 2015, more than 4 billion people still did not have Internet access and 10% of the world's population was living outside the range of cellular connectivity and advanced capabilities like broadband are still unavailable/unaffordable in various parts of the world.

21 Feb 2016Facebook's 'Telecom Infra Project'

Facebook's TIP project was announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February 2016.

Jay Parikh described it as an "engineering-focused initiative that is bringing operators, infrastructure providers, system integrators, and other technology companies together".

TIP would contribute designs in the areas of access, backhaul, core and management.

The principles would be applied to Facebook's 'Open Compute Project' for sharing data centre designs.

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07 Jul 2016Facebook unveils its new open wireless access platform 'OpenCellular'

Product specifics

07 Jul 2016Product specifics

There are two main sub-systems:general- purpose and base-band computing(GBC) with integrated power and housekeeping system and an integrated analog front-end Radio Frequency(RF).

The external mount for the white, plastic box is designed to survive extreme weather conditions and it can de deployed on almost anything.

The system presents multiple power options- battery, solar power or connection to an electric line.

07 Jul 2016The journey so far

In 2015, Facebook acquired Kashif Ali's startup company, Endaga, which was working towards building wireless networks in parts of the world that lacked connectivity, beginning with Papua, Indonesia.

Leading telecommunications equipment makers like Nokia, Broadcom and Juniper Networks have also backed TIP.

As of now, the project has been tested at Facebook's headquarters and successfully used for voice calling, texting and slow 2G connections.

07 Jul 2016Future goals

Based on this platform, Facebook's plan to open-source the hardware and software designs, would enable telecom operators, entrepreneurs, original equipment manufacturers and researchers to locally build and operate wireless infrastructure.

It also aims to work with the members of the TIP to build an active open source community around cellular access technology development and select trial locations to test different aspects of the platform.

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Similar attempts

'Open Comute'(2011) is by far Facebook's most successful open source hardware project. It encouraged the development of lower cost computer servers for data centers. Also, new hardware devices including drones, communication lasers and new wireless antennas are being developed to push Internet in remote areas.