Facebook offers telcos TIP for open systems development

Facebook’s new Telecom Infra Project (TIP), unveiled at Mobile World Congress, could do for the telecoms equipment industry what the Open Compute Project (OCP) did to the data centre, it claims.

Partners in TIP currently include a variety of players such as comms equipment maker Nokia and giant chip Intel, through global hosting giant Equinix, to a range of telcos such as Deutsche Telekom, BT subsidiary EE, Globe Telecom and South Korean operator SK Telecom.

Announcing the project Jay Parikh, the social media giant’s Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure, said that the traditional telecoms infrastructure needs to change to meet the global challenge created as communications becomes more data intensive. As data intensive apps like video and virtual reality become more popular, more people and devices around the world are coming online, Parikh warned, and the current telco infrastructure cannot cope. “We know there isn’t a sole solution for this, and no single company can tackle the problem alone,” said Parikh.

The first objective of the TIP should be to tackle the access, backhaul, core and management, according to Parikh.

The telecoms industry needs new hardware but, more importantly, it needs a new way of working that is more akin to the IT industry, with less of the traditional proprietorial approach to making equipment. To that effect, the TIP will be akin to the principles of Facebook’s Open Compute Project which, claimed Parikh, is a model of how openness and disaggregation can spur innovation.

The traditionally closed system of telecoms need to be unbundled, component piece by piece, in order to give operators more flexibility in building networks, Parikh said. TIP members will work together to speed up the development of technologies like 5G and pave the way for better connectivity and richer services, said Parikh.

Facebook recently partnered with operator Globe, on a pilot project to connect a small village in the Philippines that previously had no cellular coverage. Meanwhile, UK operator EE is planning community-run 4G coverage for a remote region of the Scottish Highlands. Facebook is lending its Aquila drone to French satellite company Eutelsat Communications in an experiment in bringing coverage to new areas.

Telecoms is in a similar state to the hyperscale data centre industry two years ago, said Axel Clauberg Deutsche Telekom’s VP of Aggregation. “The Open Compute Project brought fresh ideas into this market and led to a much better scalability and efficiency. With the cloudification of our network functions, open computing became very relevant to telcos,” said Clauberg. However, the telco world is much bigger than data centres, he warned, and challenges like updating service production, IP Core, aggregation and fixed and mobile access are just the tip of the iceberg.

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