Facebook cites progress in quest to get telecom industry moving faster

Jay Parikh
Facebook's Jay Parikh says the social media giant realizes that no one company is going to connect the entirety of the under- or unconnected in the world.

BARCELONA, Spain—Just a year after Facebook used Mobile World Congress 2016 as the venue to launch the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), the social media giant has witnessed a lot of progress, not the least of which is garnering 450+ members—up from the five it started with a year ago.

The TIP drew upon Facebook’s experience with the Open Compute Project and software in an effort to bring together operators, vendors, system integrators and other technology vendors to collaborate and drive innovation in the telecom industry at a faster pace, said Jay Parikh, Facebook's head of engineering and infrastructure, at a media briefing at MWC on Monday.

“We want to bring more interesting technologies so that we can get these higher capacity, higher bandwidth solutions into the market,” connecting more people and doing so at a lower cost, he said.

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At its start, TIP supporters included Nokia, Intel, Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom, along with Facebook. Since then, Facebook has added hundreds more members, including Dish, Nextel, Nokia, SK Telecom and Vodafone.

During the past year, Facebook demonstrated a solar-powered drone called Aquila and continued work in other wireless areas, including Terragraph, a 60 GHz, multi-node wireless system focused on bringing high-speed internet connectivity to dense urban areas, and Project Aries, which involves 4G cellular with massive MIMO technology in point to multi-point deployments. 

”The approach here really is to … work on alternate technologies so that we can figure out how to package them up in some solution” based on the region where people live and what they need to get connected, he said. “What we’ve realized also is there really is no one technology that’s going to work, so we’ve been investing in a bunch of technologies but we also realize that there isn’t like one company that’s going to solve the connectivity problems of the world.”

RELATED: Verizon, T-Mo, Sprint still not jumping into Facebook's TIP

Part of Facebook’ s mission is to address that age-old problem: Getting startups with innovative ideas to accelerate their progress with operators. Historically, if startups wanted to get in the door of a wireless operator with hardware or software to make the network run more efficiently or to deliver some new products, it was a long and arduous process. And once in the door, it often took startups years to progress through evaluations and trials.

Toward that end, several initiatives are under way:

  • The TIP Ecosystem Acceleration Center program is expanding, with BT to launch the newest centers in London and Adastral Park this year. This is in addition to the first center in Seoul with support from SK Telecom and Facebook that was announced in November. The centers are designed to enable global operators to coordinate closely with each other and Facebook to accelerate the deployment of infrastructure technology solutions from startups.
  • In London, a group of investors, incubators, university and public/private funds have joined forces to invest $170M in startups focused on telecom infrastructure.
  • People and Process kicked off a new process work stream focused on software development and deployment (DevOps) for SDN-NFV. The work stream’s founding members include Accenture, Bell Canada, Deloitte, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, NBN, Telecom Italia and Telstra. 

RELATED: Facebook's Parikh: Telecom Infra Project 'getting off the ground now' with more than 100 members

Parikh also mentioned that OpenCellular, a white box optical transponder and routing solution for telcos, was built on 2G technology in order to deploy a more efficient optical network and extend fiber networks out from urban environments. But Cavium has now taken OpenCellular and adapted the stack to offer 4G LTE.

Facebook also said it’s now participating in a fiber build in northwest Ugunda covering about 770 kilometers that, when completed, will provide backhaul connectivity covering more than 3 million people in Uganda and enable future cross-border connectivity to neighboring countries. It’s working with Airtel Uganda and Bandwidth & Cloud Services Group (BCS), a wholesale bandwidth provider focused on deploying infrastructure in East Africa.