Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Facebook Disrupts Telecom with OpenCellular

Facebook today announced that it will launch OpenCellular, a mobile infrastructure platform designed to lower barriers to entry for would-be providers of Internet service to the developing world.

After facing a sharp rebuke to its Internet Basics program, Facebook has taken a more ambitious project to enable free Internet to areas that are currently under served.

OpenCellular is a customizable base chassis for a wireless access point which will connect devices using 2G, LTE or even Wi-Fi. The base chassis is designed to be modular to keep down costs and making it easier to deploy at a high point in an open area - like a tall tower or a tree.

OpenCellular is a wireless access point which will allow users to connect to Internet via cell phone devices. Keeping in mind that this is targeted at areas that are currently undeserved, I would guess that most users will connect with a cheap Android phones.

According to the blog post of Facebook engineer Kashif Ali: "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."

Facebook said that the emphasis in the design process was on keeping the design as modular and inexpensive as possible, as well as making it easy to deploy. Keeping in mind of a rural or remote installation location, the chassis can be powered from multiple sources PoE, Solar Panels, External Batteries etc.

Given Facebook's penchant for OpenSource and its contribution to OpenCompute Foundation, Facebook will eventually make the hardware design and the software running on OpenCellular will be made open-source eventually.

At this point, it is not clear as to how these OpenCellular base station will connect to Internet. It can be to a UAV drones or a direct satellite uplink.

A free wireless Internet access could be a game changer in rural areas of India & other parts of Asia, where the existing telcos make tonnes of money by charging for Internet and basic telephone calls. With free Internet, users can use Facebook's WhatsApp calling feature and use Facebook for local mass communication. This will effectively disrupt a whole lot of cell phone service providers business models all over the world, while Facebook will benefit indirectly by gaining more customers and users - which leads to greater advertisement revenues.


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