A simple explanation of TIP – making connectivity cheaper

The Telecom Infra Project has gotten a huge amount of attention since its launch, mainly due to the Facebook brand, but why is it so important? It’s all about bringing connectivity to everyone, equally.

This might sound like PR propaganda, but it is true. Facebook wants to make sure connectivity is fair and equal for everyone in the world, ensuring the digital lifestyle extends beyond developed nations and into the ignored territories. Like the army of Mormons spreading the word of Joseph Smith, Facebook is attempting to spread its own form of enlightenment; connectivity.

Again, this might sound like a corporate giant trying to cover up nefarious objectives with a light and fluffy initiative but this is a genuine mission. It does have a tie back to the profit and loss column for Facebook, but what do you expect, Mark Zuckerberg is not the CEO of a charity.

In the simplest of terms, there are two objectives for TIP. Firstly, decouple hardware and software to bring down the price of connectivity infrastructure. This will, in theory, accelerate the rollout of said infrastructure into the regions were ROI has been hard to find. Secondly, open up black boxes in developed markets to improve the quality of connectivity. Both of these objectives are about improving the experience of the internet for all, providing an equal connectivity experience for the masses.

“We need to innovate at the speed of software upgrades not hardware replacement cycles,” said Telefonica’s David Del Val Latorre, one of the TIP Board members.

It does sound too good to be true, but you have to understand the Facebook business model. Unlike it neighbours in Silicon Valley, Facebook has not been the most successful when it comes to diversification. Almost every dollar flowing back to Zuckerberg’s piggy back is derived from the walled garden advertising business model. Facebook captures the audience on its platform, and then charges third-parties to access them. It is an incredibly successful business model, but it has its limitations; you can only serve so many adverts to one person. For Facebook’s rise to continue, new users need to be found.

Facebook’s Next Billion Users initiative is a perfect example of this. With developing markets approaching an advertising glass ceiling, new users need to be found to fuel the advertising machine. For this to happen, connectivity infrastructure needs to be rolled out into the regions where it isn’t. To tackle these tough environments and regions of low-ARPU, new connectivity solutions need to be developed to offer the telcos ROI. Hence TIP.

Of course Facebook is not on its own. Del Val Latorre is leading the TIP and Telefonica efforts to being OpenRAN to South America and connect an additional 100 million customers. Vodafone is doing the same in India and claims to be able to lower TCO by 30% for certain projects. There are now nine community labs around the world, including two in Brazil, and an additional seven field projects. Deutsche Telekom is running its own project in Hungary. Even Nokia has a member on the board, despite the TIP mission destroying part of its own business model. Ericsson isn’t a member though…

Of course, “this is not a Facebook thing, we are one member,” Jay Parikh, Head of Engineering and Infrastructure at Facebook, reminded the audience.

The TIP mission statement might sound like something out of a cheesy PR playbook, and this might be the case, but it is being genuine.

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