Despite the widespread global adoption of mobile technology over the past twenty years, over 4 billion are still not connected to the Internet. And 10 percent of the world’s population is still living outside the range of cellular connectivity due to lack of basic infrastructure. But, there is one company that is focused on connecting each and every individual on the face of planet Earth — Facebook.
To make this a reality, the company today is announcing the release of an open-source wireless access platform — OpenCellular. This project is aimed at providing affordable connectivity options by lowering the cost of deployment and operation in remote areas of the world.
In the official blogpost, Facebook engineer Kashif Ali notes that the growth of Internet connectivity has been slow because,
Traditional cellular infrastructure can be very expensive, making it difficult for operators to deploy it everywhere and for smaller organizations or individuals to solve hyperlocal connectivity challenges.
Facebook, though has already been fairly active in eliminating problems plaguing the communities on the connectivity front. The company is currently working on deploying large solar-powered drones that use lasers to connect with each other and provide Internet services to rural areas. And to cover more physical ground it has recently introduced a new terrestrial antenna project which aims to provide a consistent, high-bandwidth internet experience in cities and rural areas.
Benefits of ‘OpenCellular’ platform
Continuing to solve the larger connectivity problem, Facebook with the ‘OpenCellular’ project is now introducing affordable connectivity infrastructure for installation in remote areas.
With OpenCellular, we want to develop affordable new technology that can expand capacity and make it more cost-effective for operators to deploy networks in places where coverage is scarce. By open-sourcing the hardware and software designs for this technology, we expect costs to decrease for operators and to make it accessible to new participants.
The hardware has been designed to withstand some of the harshest weather conditions, so it can handle high-speed winds, and extreme temperatures in all types of communities around the world. Facebook says that the platform will consist of two easy-to-deploy subsystems, one for general computing and the other for radio communication.
The antennas due to their on-board computing power and storage capacity can be constructed inside a small shoebox-shaped outer shell. And the hardware designs have been kept simple to encourage people to deploy their own cellular networks. One can then configure the networks to support a wide variety of wireless networks, ranging from 2G and LTE to Wi-Fi access points. It will be able to support upto 1,500 connections as far as 10 kilometers away.
The antenna systems have been designed to operate without much maintenance or service. To keep a close-check on the real-time operations of the antenna, the company is deploying an existing open source, real-time operating system on the platform. Using the same, it will reconfigure itself and issue alarms when additional support is needed.
Facebook is currently testing the antenna systems at their headquarters in Menlo Park. It is also working with OEM and ODM partners to make the ‘OpenCellular’ platform widely accessible. The company has completed the first reference design and was able to send and receive SMS messages, make voice calls, and use basic data connectivity using 2G implementation on the platform.
This initial prototype of the open-source platform will be made available to the developer community this summer.