Facebook's quest to connect the remaining four billion people on the planet without internet access up to Facebook the web is a huge task.
On Thursday, Facebook showed off its open-source telecommunications tech that it hopes will get unconnected folks connected, and give those of us already on the internet a smoother ride.
The social network has already announced its plans for a solar-powered aircraft, dubbed Aquila, that will circle over remote parts of the world for months at a time relaying internet traffic to and from the ground.
Now, on day two of its F8 developer's conference this week, Facebook unveiled two new telecommunications devices aimed at improving connectivity on the ground.
The first, Project Aries, is a redesign of telco cell towers. The new masts each use 96 antennas capable of pumping out 71 bps/Hz of spectral efficiency. Jay Parikh, Facebook's vice president of engineering, has promised 100+ bps/Hz when the hardware is deployed.
Facebook wants to take this to developing nations to allow those on lousy 2G connections to experience cat videos on the social network in all their glory.
The second idea, called Terragraph, is designed to increase bandwidth in cities. It uses a mesh of WiGig transmitters that can be stuck on buildings and utility poles to form a wide-area IPv6 network. Small cell and Wi-Fi transceivers can be used at the client end to pick up the signal, connect to the WiGig network, and route through to the internet. Deploying this ad-hoc network should be a lot easier than setting up formal mobile telecoms coverage.
The system uses the 60GHz spectrum, which has traditionally been shunned because it's prone to getting blocked out by buildings and even the oxygen in the air. But with enough bases and the use of phase-array antennas, Facebook thinks it can route around blockages to get gigabit Wi-Fi across an entire city.
A Terragraph system is up and running on Facebook's Menlo Park campus in California. The company is going to be rolling it out across nearby San Jose in a city-wide test in the coming year. It has already achieved 1.05 Gbps bidirectional peer-to-peer traffic; Facebook thinks it can get that up to 12.8 Gbps in the future so we can all enjoy videos of skiers being chased by bears wherever we are.
Facebook is open-sourcing its comms hardware designs and software as part of its Telecom Infra Project, and hopes telcos installing the kit will use the savings to cut the cost of data for subscribers rather than increasing profitability. Good luck with that. ®