As part of efforts to get more people connected to the internet, Facebook unveiled a new partner ecosystem program called Express Wi-Fi Certified that allows Wi-Fi access point vendors to build Wi-Fi hardware compatible with Express Wi-Fi.
The initial Certified partners are Arista, Cambium Networks and Ruckus Networks.
Even though it sounds a lot like Wi-Fi Certified, which is how the Wi-Fi Alliance brands its program, Express Wi-Fi Certified is specific to Facebook. It's designed to get people connected where it’s often difficult or costly to provide internet services. Facebook partners with local internet service providers and mobile network operators to provide the Wi-Fi, and people usually access the hotspots by signing up with a participating retailer and buying a prepaid data package.
Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi is currently available with 10 partners in five countries: India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania. It’s not currently something they’re pursuing in the U.S.
Part of the mission of Express Wi-Fi Certified is to address some of the challenges inherit in Wi-Fi.
“We started Express Wi-Fi basically with a mission to bring more people online with fast and affordable Wi-Fi,” said Guy Mordecai, product lead for Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi, which is part of the same Connectivity team that is pursuing the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and Terragraph. Early on in the process, “we just realized there’s a lot of challenges.”
Facebook started conversations with vendors about 18 months ago about ways to build better access points. What they came up with are new access points that help devices better detect registration pages and more accurately account for the amount of Wi-Fi data consumed.
Partnering with a handful of vendors helped to address some of Wi-Fi’s gaps. At its core, Wi-Fi is hyper-localized and not designed for the kind of scale that macro cellular networks are designed to handle. “Our motivation is to make Wi-Fi better,” Mordecai told FierceWirelessTech.
In order to work with Express Wi-Fi software, individual hotspots must be able to perform two key tasks: authenticate people who want to use a hotspot and account for the Wi-Fi data they use, according to Mordecai.
Ruckus, an Arris company, has been working with Facebook since the beginning of the project in 2015. In some ways, it’s similar to how Ruckus technology is being used in Google Station Wi-Fi hotspots in India, Indonesia and Mexico.
The Express Wi-Fi initiative uses both indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi access points from Ruckus, but Ruckus’ portfolio of outdoor products is particularly germane to the effort, according to Bart Giordano, vice president, Worldwide Business Development and Cloud at Ruckus Networks.
In areas where Express Wi-Fi is being deployed, there can be a lot of challenging environments, whether it’s the rainy season, a dust storm or wild fluctuations in temperature. It’s important to get costs of maintenance down so that the initiative becomes self-sustaining in these areas. “Our outdoor products are meant to withstand those types of conditions,” Giordano told FierceWirelessTech. “I think we have a strong technology advantage.”
All Ruckus products are Hotspot 2.0 compliant; it’s up to its clients whether they want to trigger that functionality. Giordano said some incremental changes were made to its gear for the Facebook initiative and those remain standard in its line of products.