Telecom Infra Project celebrates 3 years, milestones at MWC

BARCELONA—Facebook isn’t resting on its laurels or pulling back on plans to expand its influence. With nearly one-third of the world’s population using at least one of its apps on a monthly basis, the social giant’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP) seems tangential at first glance, but the effort could open new markets and greatly improve the experience of its users across all of its properties.

The company today shared updates to the project that it first launched three years ago here at Mobile World Congress and identified points of progress achieved during the last year. While the company’s effort to advance telecom infrastructure is viewed as an overreach by a few in the wireless industry, at least some of those concerns appear to have waned of late.

Much of that can be attributed to Facebook’s approach to the mobile infrastructure market, which is decidedly more open, collaborative and less controlled. Facebook funded the creation of TIP but established an environment that allows operators and equipment vendors to play dominant roles in the direction of TIP’s technology and network architecture. Operator-led efforts on multiple field trial deployments have fed a growing interest in flexible technologies that are on the pathway to commercialization.

“We’ve clearly proven we’re not just here to watch what Facebook is doing or Facebook’s strategy,” Axel Clauberg, chairman of the TIP board and CTO at T-Systems, told FierceWireless today. Operators, infrastructure vendors and software providers are all making active contributions to TIP, he said.

The entire industry needs to rethink how it deploys network infrastructure of the future, according to Clauberg. It’s not that infrastructure stalwarts aren’t innovating on their own, but an open, disaggregated approach to telecom infrastructure is “changing the pace of innovation of vendors as well,” he said. There’s ample room and need for vendor-led ecosystems and an open collaborative approach like TIP, he added.

“Operators are going through a transformation” and many of them are not ready for the responsibility of owning software and network functions, Clauberg said.  

Attilio Zani, executive director of TIP said the group is driving competitive innovation within the industry and the demonstration today shows how the community is coming together. “All of this has come together in a way that we really think is looking ahead to the future of the industry,” he said. “We’re hearing much more from the marketplace and increased demand for these kinds of solutions to be recognized.”

TIP’s new OpenRAN 5G NR project group, which is co-chaired by Vodafone and Sprint, seeks to improve upon the radio access and compatible architecture of 5G NR in the early phases of its development. The goal of the project is to assert the need for disaggregated RAN solutions that can power a more flexible network, according to TIP.

During MWC, TIP is showcasing the interoperability of its technologies in its first end-to-end network demonstration that includes work from groups developing OpenRAN, vRAN Fronthaul, Edge Computing and Applications, Disaggregated Cell Site Gateway, Cassini, CrowdCell, OpenCellular and new technologies for radio access, backhaul, core and network management. The demonstration, which involves 20 technology providers, marks the first time TIP’s numerous technologies from various working groups have integrated together on a telecom network.

TIP’s leaders also today showcased some results from OpenRAN field trials with Vodafone and Telefonica, which began in Turkey and are now being expanding to trial deployments in Africa with the Vodacom Group, Mavenir and Parallel Wireless. The first 25 trial sites in Turkey successfully carried commercial traffic in the 900 MHz and demonstrated the capability of macro OpenRAN platforms, according to TIP. Vodafone UK plans to launch a live field trial using small base stations indoors for 5G coverage and Telefonica is deploying sites in Peru, Colombia and Argentina for new pilot OpenRAN trials.

TIP said its Disaggregated Cell Site Gateway is also moving closer to commercial availability following positive responses from Vodafone, Telefonica and TIM. The trio of operators is now committed to undertake trials in the lab that should lead to field deployments and create new opportunities for 5G networks, according to the group.