Facebook has Wi-Fi, 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described it as “the next step on our journey to provide better, more affordable connectivity to bring the world closer together.”
What is OpenCellular?
There are four billion people in the world without internet access, and nearly 700 million without cellular service. Most of these people live in remote areas and, until now, they have lacked the necessary infrastructure to support a cellular network.
Facebook hope to change this with OpenCellular, which has been designed with affordability in mind. The system provides the tools to set up a complete network, from the physical equipment to the software that runs it.
It comprises of two subsystems: General-baseband computing (GBC) and Radio with integrated front-end (RF). The GBC is made up of a number of specialized processors and sensors that monitor temperature, voltage, and current. It is designed to take in various input power sources, including PoE (power-over-ethernet), solar, DC, and external batteries (seal lead acid) and internal battery (lithium-ion).
The RF module can be attached to many different structures and connects to radio technology-specific antennas. It has been designed to simplify installation and deployment, and can withstand extreme weather conditions and temperatures.
Facebook has been testing the new system at its headquarters in California. The platform has been used to send and receive text messages, make voice calls and access relatively slow 2G data connections. Thus far, the tests have been successful.
There are some challenges, which the company is working hard to address. For example, the device does require power and some form of backhaul connection to the Internet. To remedy this, the social media giant has been working on an antenna that can provide wireless backhaul by streaming Internet signals from urban areas out into more remote regions.
Facebook plan to open source the designs for the device so that others can use its designs and software for free to build their own boxes. It will be interesting to see how established members of the telecoms market view this move. Companies like Nokia are responsible for much of the hardware that drives today’s cellular networks. By open sourcing their designs, Facebook are allowing other smaller players to challenge these market leaders.
Facebook continues its slow progress towards its goal of connecting everyone. OpenCellular joins their ever expanding list of projects, which includes satellites, lasers and the Aquila drone. The company recently completed its first test flight of the solar-powered drone that is designed to beam down internet access to remote areas around the world.
They have also made agreements with service providers and governments in Latin America, Africa, and Asia to deliver a selection of web services for free under the moniker Free Basics. But this has been met with some opposition. Regulators in India have deemed Facebook’s Free Basics illegal under the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)’s network neutrality rules.
It will be interesting to see how this latest project develops, with the first implementations expected to be available this summer.
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