Facebook is hoping to attract industry players to design open-source wireless gear for the poorest regions of the world. The social media giant, which successfully started projects to create inexpensive telecommunications gear and computer servers, now aims to bring wireless networks to poor parts of the world.
OpenCellular – new Facebook connectivity project
Since most Internet users eventually become Facebook users, the social media giant has initiated many projects to bring data connectivity to more parts of the world. OpenCellular is the company’s latest connectivity project. To design low-cost, open-source hardware that can be rolled out for a fraction of the cost of typical networks, OpenCellular aims to get wireless industry players together.
On Wednesday in a blog post introducing the effort, Facebook engineer Kashif Ali wrote, “Despite the widespread global adoption of mobile phones over the last 20 years, the cellular infrastructure required to support basic connectivity and more advanced capabilities like broadband is still unavailable or unaffordable in many parts of the world.”
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Last year, Facebook acquired Ali’s startup company Endaga. The startup was working to build wireless networks in parts of the world that lacked connectivity, starting in Papua, Indonesia.
Tested for extreme environment
OpenCellular’s first product is a small wireless access point designed to support mobile standards from Wi-Fi, slow 2G connections and super-fast LTE. According to the social networking giant, the external mount for the plain white plastic box is designed to survive rugged climates, extreme temperatures and high winds. Also it can be installed on anything from the top of a high tree to a short pole. The system can be connected to an electric line and is designed to be solar- or battery-powered.
So far, the system has been successfully tested for texting, voice calls and relatively slow 2G data connections at Facebook’s headquarters.
Enjoys the backing of major players
Facebook will contribute the first design to a larger open-source effort, just like it did with its previous hardware efforts. Leading telecommunications equipment makers, including Broadcom, Juniper Networks, and Nokia, are backing the Facebook-initiated program. Also mobile carriers such as SK Telecom and Deutsche Telekom are supporting the program.
By far, Facebook’s most successful open source hardware project is Open Compute, which was started in 2011 to motivate the development of lower cost computer servers for data centers. Since then, it gained backing from Google, Apple, and Microsoft.
According to industry trade group GSMA, around half of the population of the world, some 3.7 billion people, subscribe to a mobile service. However, almost 1 billion people in rural parts of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have no access to a mobile network, and another 2 billion are unable to connect at broadband speeds.