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Jon Franco
Jon Franco


FacebookunveilsOpenCellularitsopensourcewirelessaccessplatformZDNet: What You Need to Know

Facebook is on a mission to connect the world, and one of its strategies is to create an open-source wireless access platform that can be deployed in remote areas. The platform, called OpenCellular, was announced by Facebook in July 2016 and aims to improve connectivity and lower the cost of deploying and operating cellular networks. In this article, we will explain what OpenCellular is, how it works, and why it matters.


What is OpenCellular?

OpenCellular is a wireless access platform that can support a range of communication options, from a network-in-a-box to an access point supporting everything from 2G to LTE. The platform consists of two main subsystems: a general-purpose and base-band computing (GBC) board and a radio frequency (RF) board. The GBC board includes power, a housekeeping microcontroller, a microprocessor, a timing/sync module, sensors, and a control mechanism. The RF board supports various open source and commercial cellular stacks and can be customized for different frequency bands and power levels.

The platform is designed to be simple, low-cost, and scalable. It can be deployed by anyone, anywhere, using a strap, a mounting bracket, or an enclosure. It can be mounted on a tree, a pole, or a building. It can take in various input power sources, such as solar, DC, external batteries, or internal batteries. It can also monitor its own performance and environment using sensors. It can be remotely run and managed using an existing open source operating system.

How does OpenCellular work?

OpenCellular works by providing wireless access to users within its coverage area. Depending on the configuration and the cellular stack used, it can act as a standalone network or connect to an existing network. It can also support voice calls, SMS messages, data services, and internet access. It can communicate with other OpenCellular devices or with standard cellular devices.

OpenCellular uses software-defined radio technology to enable flexibility and interoperability. It can adapt to different frequency bands and power levels depending on the regulatory requirements and user needs. It can also switch between different cellular standards and protocols depending on the availability and compatibility of networks.

Why does OpenCellular matter?

OpenCellular matters because it can help bridge the digital divide and bring connectivity to underserved areas of the world. According to Facebook, more than 4 billion people were still not connected to the internet as of the end of 2015, and 10 percent of the world's population were living outside the range of cellular connectivity. One of the main barriers to expanding cellular networks is the high cost of infrastructure and maintenance.

By making OpenCellular open source and cost-effective, Facebook hopes to encourage telecom operators, entrepreneurs, OEMs, researchers, and communities to build, implement, deploy, and operate their own wireless networks based on this platform. This way, they can tailor their solutions to their local needs and challenges. Facebook also hopes to foster an active open source community around cellular access technology development and innovation.

OpenCellular is part of Facebook's broader efforts to improve connectivity infrastructure and lower its cost. Facebook is also working on other projects such as Aquila (a solar-powered drone that can beam internet from the sky), Terragraph (a wireless system that can deliver high-speed internet in urban areas), and Express Wi-Fi (a program that enables local entrepreneurs to offer affordable internet access).

How to get involved with OpenCellular?

If you are interested in getting involved with OpenCellular, there are several ways you can do so. Facebook plans to open-source the hardware design, along with the necessary firmware and control software, to enable anyone to build and use the platform. You can also join the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), a collaborative initiative that Facebook launched with other industry partners to accelerate the development of new technologies and approaches for connectivity infrastructure. TIP members can access the OpenCellular designs and contribute to their improvement and innovation. You can also participate in the trials and tests that Facebook and TIP members will conduct to validate the technical, functional, and operational aspects of the platform.

What are the challenges and opportunities of OpenCellular?

OpenCellular is an ambitious and promising project that has the potential to transform the way wireless networks are built and operated. However, it also faces some challenges and limitations that need to be addressed and overcome. Some of these challenges include:

  • The regulatory and policy environment: Different countries and regions have different rules and regulations regarding spectrum allocation, licensing, taxation, security, privacy, and quality of service. These factors can affect the feasibility and profitability of deploying and operating OpenCellular networks.

  • The technical and operational complexity: Building and maintaining wireless networks is not a trivial task. It requires technical expertise, logistical support, quality control, troubleshooting, and customer service. OpenCellular networks also need to interoperate with existing networks and devices, which can pose compatibility and interoperability issues.

  • The social and economic impact: Providing wireless access to underserved areas can have positive social and economic benefits, such as improving education, health, communication, commerce, and empowerment. However, it can also create new challenges and risks, such as digital divide, cybercrime, misinformation, censorship, and surveillance.

Despite these challenges, OpenCellular also offers many opportunities and advantages that can outweigh its drawbacks. Some of these opportunities include:

  • The scalability and affordability: OpenCellular can enable wireless access to areas that are otherwise difficult or expensive to reach with traditional infrastructure. It can also lower the cost of ownership and operation of wireless networks by using open source and low-cost components.

  • The flexibility and adaptability: OpenCellular can support a variety of communication options and scenarios depending on the user needs and preferences. It can also adjust to different frequency bands and power levels depending on the regulatory requirements and environmental conditions.

  • The innovation and collaboration: OpenCellular can foster an open source community that can share ideas, resources, feedback, and best practices for wireless access technology development. It can also facilitate collaboration among different stakeholders, such as telecom operators, entrepreneurs, researchers, communities, governments, NGOs, etc.



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