Facebook: Partnering to build the Telecom Infra Project

Every day, more people and more devices come online. By 2020, more than a zettabyte — that’s 1,000 exabytes — of information will be exchanged over telecom networks, much of it in data-intensive formats like video and virtual reality. Innovation in the telecommunications industry must keep pace with these increasing demands so we can continue to scale coverage around the globe and meet future connectivity requirements.

A few years ago, Facebook was faced with a data center problem familiar to many scale companies: We depended on proprietary systems and hardware that were inflexible and expensive. We realized quickly that this approach would not be sustainable; we needed to find a new way. So we started redesigning our own data center stack from scratch and open-sourcing the things we built through the Open Compute Project (OCP). By working in the open and contributing designs that others could borrow and build upon, we were able to increase the pace of innovation in this field and save billions of dollars in infrastructure costs over the last few years.

As this OCP work was happening, we recognized that telecom infrastructure could benefit from the same innovations taking place in the data center. The power of CPUs and fiber optic network technology has skyrocketed while simultaneously growing significantly cheaper, and it was clear that the raw building blocks of what we were developing for our own infrastructure could be applied to telecom networks with great benefit. That’s why we’ve co-founded the Telecom Infra Project (TIP). TIP is bringing together operators, infrastructure providers, system integrators, and other industry players to work together to develop new technologies and rethink approaches to deploying network architecture that leverage these new advances in the technology and an open approach to development.

We are thrilled to launch TIP with Intel and Nokia, which have been delivering industry-leading technology solutions for a very long time, and Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom, which have both demonstrated significant leadership in the development of new network technologies. A number of other technology partners have also joined TIP and will provide knowledge and operational expertise across all areas of the telecom stack, driving innovation right from the start.

At first, TIP will focus on disaggregating the components of network infrastructure that are traditionally bundled together and vendor-specific. This will give operators more flexibility in how they build out their networks and enable better, more cost-effective coverage. TIP members will work across three areas — access, backhaul, and core and management — to explore new hardware and software architectures with an eye toward greater simplicity and efficiency.

TIP members will participate by contributing specs for network hardware or software, working together to develop and define new specs, designing new network topologies to solve for specific connectivity challenges, and adopting and deploying the technologies that emerge from these efforts. By leveraging the collective knowledge and operational expertise of its members, TIP has the potential to accelerate the development of 5G and other new technologies that will pave the way for better connectivity around the world.

We know this won’t be easy, but we believe that it can be done. To illustrate how this new model can be successful, Facebook has been working in partnership with Globe on a small pilot deployment in the Philippines. We deployed a low-cost, solar-powered network-in-a-box solution, bringing mobile coverage to a village whose residents had previously needed to make long, expensive trips to nearby towns in order to make a phone call. In the first week alone, we connected more than 60 percent of the community.

Facebook is working with operators on several other small pilot deployments planned around the world in the coming months, each solving for a different type of connectivity challenge in a different region. We don’t plan to become an operator; rather, we want to jump-start these connectivity efforts, prove they can be sustainable and cost-effective — whether connecting the small population of a rural village or increasing the network capacity of a large metropolitan area — and then hand the reins over to local operators and communities. In addition to sharing what we learn from these pilot deployments with the rest of the industry, Facebook will contribute some of the technologies used in the deployments to several of the initial TIP project groups.

TIP aims to solve global connectivity challenges with local solutions. These are lofty goals, to be sure, and none of us can achieve them alone. TIP provides a nexus for everyone in the industry to come together to solve the hardest problems. Anyone can join TIP — whether you’re facing a unique challenge and are in search of new technological solutions, or you’re looking for ways to achieve the volume and scale necessary to profitably deploy networks in new regions, working together in the open is the quickest way to meet our shared goal of connecting the world.