Facebook (News - Alert) has designed and begun testing its own open-source software-defined wireless access hardware called OpenCellular. It wants operators large and small across the globe to have a better chance of deploying their own wireless networks, so the self-contained box will support mobile (2G through LTE (News - Alert)) and wireless (Wi-Fi) connections in a manner that is accessible to all interested parties.
Facebook notes in its blog post about the development of OpenCellular that the issue of global internet capability is complicated and that its complications have left more than four billion people without access to even the most basic connections. Cellular networks often demand expensive infrastructure such as the cost of land, radio towers, security features, power sources, and connection backhauls. Although Facebook cannot control the price of land or physical materials in all locations, it can control the costs and features available within its own hardware.
Facebook has included two main units within its prototype. First, it houses the general-baseband computing subsystem, which consists of a microcontroller, microprocessor, power adapter, control mechanism, and various sensors for temperature and voltage as well as timing modules that help its components function. This makes it possible for the unit to run on direct current, solar, internal and external batteries, and power-over-Ethernet.
The unit also includes an integrated radio that can work as part of a software-defined radio or system on a chip. It appears that Facebook will create two versions of its access point – one for the software-defined method and the other for the integrated chip. Depending on the configuration, the radio can either work with the computing subsystem to create a “network-in-a-box” or it can act as an access point (system on a chip only).
What most users will see is a single unit that can be strapped to a pole or tree at various heights. The unit will try to be simple to use and accessible via a remote connection, so maintenance in remote areas will not require a physical visit for most network troubleshoots. Its enclosure will be able to withstand harsh weather conditions, and users will have the option to configure the hardware and software as they please. The open-source internal hardware and software will try to increase the accessibility of OpenCellular to individuals and groups that may have forgone the option of creating their own cellular networks for fear of cost, complexity, or proprietary design.
The OpenCellular unit has already persisted through testing of 2G connections and voice calling. Facebook has also sent SMS texts through the unit. Of course, there are many promised functions above that are not ready for commercial use. An initial release is expected to occur this summer, but Facebook says it will continue to seek community support to develop its features in conjunction with members of the Telecom Infra Project, a collection of operators and engineers that seek to innovate and create new telecommunications products and mobile services.
Edited by Peter Bernstein