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Facebook TIPs the Scales Toward Better Networking

By Jack M. Germain
Feb 24, 2016 5:00 AM PT
Facebook Telecom Infra Project

Facebook on Sunday at the 2016 Mobile World Congress announced its Telecom Infra Project, an engineering initiative aimed at developing new technologies and approaches to building and deploying telecom network infrastructure.

TIP will bring together telecommunications companies, infrastructure providers, system integrators and other technology companies, according to Jay Parikh, Facebook's global head of engineering and infrastructure.

In essence, Facebook wants to become a provider hub of globally shared content.

People and devices are coming online in increasing numbers around the world, making it easier to share data-intensive experiences such as video and virtual reality, Parikh said. However, the industry has been too slow in scaling traditional telecom infrastructure to meet the global data challenge.

If TIP is successful, it could be a game-changer. Content is and always has been king, and Facebook needs the telecommunications providers to efficiently deliver content, said Michael Bremmer, CEO of TelecomQuotes.com.

"Facebook is changing the game because telecom is dominated by players who do not want the game to change and are not used to actual competition," he told LinuxInsider.

Possible Fly in the Ointment

However, the major telecom suppliers are concerned about lowering their profitability and have been unable to find other ways to monetize their assets, according to Bremmer.

"This is an industry that literally still thinks in billing by the X -- long distance, byte, etc.," he said.

TIP's task will be to enable telecom operators and the broader telecom industry to be more flexible, innovative and efficient in order to expand connectivity, according to Parikh.

It is tied into Facebook's other connectivity efforts already underway through Internet.org.

An Open Concept

The endgame is to get better wireless networks, and Facebook is calling on a previous play to drive its plan forward: the Open Compute Project, which led telcos to rebuild the hardware that powered data centers.

TIP members will align their efforts to contribute designs in three areas: access, backhaul, and core and management. The initiative will apply the Open Compute Project models of openness and disaggregation to spur innovation, noted Parikh.

Facebook hopes to unbundle the closed system of component pieces that make up the network and give network operators more flexibility in building networks. It also will result in major gains in cost and operational efficiency for both rural and urban deployments, Parikh said.

The announcement is an interesting move that says as much about Facebook's growing stature and influence as it does about the increasing overlap between technologies and vendors' market strategies, according to Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"An ongoing problem in IT is the lack of consensus/collaboration among competing parties. If Facebook can get vendors to play nice and work together, chances are good that technological evolution and innovation will accelerate," he told LinuxInsider.

Here Comes 5G

If the plan works, it could speed the emergence of 5G networks and related services.

"That is something many in the industry are hoping for, though I think translating that into profitable market demand has a long way to go," King said.

Bringing divergent industry players together will be helpful in making 5G a reality, noted Brian Lavallée, director of solutions and technology marketing at Ciena.

"The evolution toward 5G will affect the entire end-to-end network infrastructure, from virtualizing the radio access network and Evolved Packet Core to upgrading the radio and air interfaces to segments interconnecting air-based to land-based networks -- the mobile backhaul network," he told LinuxInsider.

A heterogeneous network of different cell types will be required to obtain aggressive performance gains in speed, latency and coverage. The intelligent utilization of these cell types will result in a highly flexible 5G mobile network architecture optimized for significant, overall performance gains, Lavallée said.

Facebook Wins Either Way

Facebook is in a no-lose position, noted King. If the project succeeds, the company gets praise for its foresight and willingness to play mediator.

"The history of IT is littered with dead or moribund industry collaborations. If Facebook fails, it can bemoan lost opportunities and then get back to the business it knows best," he said.

If it does not work out, Facebook really does not lose much, Bremmer noted. People still want their product and may force the other companies to innovate.

"Facebook's biggest problem is it is an app," he said. "This was proven by the failure of the Facebook phone. Facebook is dependent on others to deliver their content."


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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