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article imageFacebook to open source wireless tech to help build new networks

By James Walker     Feb 23, 2016 in Technology
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has announced a new project that will see the company head a body of telecoms firms tasked with designing networks and open-sourcing the results. It hopes to accelerate the rollout of 5G and other wireless technologies.
Zuckerberg unveiled the program, known as Telecom Infra Project (TIP), at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona today. The engineering initiative aims to get all the different parties involved in building, deploying and maintaining a mobile network to talk to each other. The hope is this will see new technologies, including 5G, rolled out more quickly to consumers.
Initial members of the project include network operators EE, T-Mobile and SK Telecom, technology companies such as Facebook and Intel and network infrastructure providers including Finland's Nokia. In total, over 30 companies have already signed up, ranging from global telecommunications firms to hardware companies who specialise in one piece of the overall network.
The members will work together to build a set of hardware component designs that can be shared freely and used as required by vendors. The components will be compatible with each other and include instructions on how they should be used, letting any network provider pick them off a shelf and expand their service.
This will drive down the cost of network infrastructure and let operators deploy new technologies more quickly by basing them on jointly designed approved components. The system will make it more economically viable to run mobile networks in remote areas, helping initiatives to bring the Internet to rural communities such as Facebook's own Free Basics.
Facebook got the idea for TIP as a result of upgrading its data centres. Several years ago, it realized its servers were based on expensive proprietary systems that weren't sustainable. Since then, it has worked to design its own solution and open-sourced every part of it, letting others emulate how it works and increasing the rate of innovation and development. This is known as the Open Compute Project, OCP.
It has now brought the knowledge it has acquired from the data centre into telecoms infrastructure, seeking to do the same again. "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," said Facebook at the launch of the TIP project.
"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."
SK Telecom, a launch member of TIP, is already involved with OCP and said it is "excited" to bring the model to the telecoms industry. "We already know that this model of working in the open and cooperating on R&D efforts drives the pace of innovation in step with the increasing demands of the connected world," the company said.
Nokia is similarly enthusiastic, saying "The openness and collaboration promoted by TIP will help us more rapidly unlock new innovations and provide more connectivity, and more efficiently, than ever before."
Assuming everything goes to plan, the hardware makers, technology firms and network operators will begin to work together soon, designing next-generation network gear capable of handling the increased bandwidth of 5G traffic. With all the involved parties able to work directly with each other, the time required to upgrade networks to be 5G-ready could be reduced dramatically, giving consumers access to the technology more quickly than if the initiative didn't exist.
Facebook is keen to attract new companies to TIP and is willing to let any firm that specializes in the field play a part in the initiative. The intention is to create a single pool of knowledge that can be tapped into as required, accelerating the pace of change in the telecoms industry.
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