Facebook today pulled the covers off its latest networking hardware initiative, this one focused on providing connectivity to people. It’s called OpenCellular, and Facebook intends to share the design specifications with other companies in the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) it established earlier this year.
OpenCellular builds on the Terragraph and Aries hardware projects that Facebook introduced in April. OpenCellular is different because it’s a low-cost means for service providers to expose a variety of cellular and wireless internet connection speeds in both rural and urban settings. (By contrast, Terragraph is focused exclusively on urban deployments. As for Aries, Facebook is trying to figure out how that technology could “provide backhaul for OpenCellular,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.) Clearly this system is meant to be flexible.
“For instance, the system, due to its on-board computing and storage capacity, can be configured as network-in-a-box or purely as a cellular access point,” Facebook engineer Kashif Ali wrote in a blog post on the news.
The work runs parallel to Google parent company Alphabet’s efforts to expand internet connectivity globally. Specifically there have been the Project Loon air balloons and Wi-Fi connections at train stations. In this instance Facebook is not directly promoting the use of its applications through the networking system, but one can draw the implicit connection — the more people who use the Internet, the more who use Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and so on.
Facebook is testing OpenCellular inside labs at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, and employees have managed to use it for texting, making phone calls, and consuming data over 2G connections. Up next, there will be trials with members of TIP. Current members include Deutsche Telekom of Germany, BT subsidiary EE of the United Kingdom, Globe Telecom of the Philippines, and SK Telecom of South Korea.
The hardware design is meant to be not only flexible but also durable.
“We designed an innovative mounting solution that can handle high winds, extreme temperatures, and rugged climates in all types of communities around the world. The device can be deployed by a single person and at a range of heights — from a pole only a few feet off the ground to a tall tower or tree,” Ali wrote.
Update at 12:58 p.m. Pacific: Added more information from Facebook on Aries and Terragraph.