Facebook’s OpenCellular is a new open-source wireless access platform

After Google, Facebook is also going open-source. In its mission to take Facebook to the last man on Earth, the networking giant has launched OpenCellular, a new open source hardware and software project that aims to bring a more affordable wireless access platform to remote areas.

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“One of the reasons the expansion of cellular networks has stalled is that the ecosystem is constrained,” Facebook engineer Kashif Ali writes. “Traditional cellular infrastructure can be very expensive, making it difficult for operators to deploy it everywhere and for smaller organizations or individuals to solve hyperlocal connectivity challenges. It’s often unaffordable for them to attempt to extend network access in both rural and developed communities.”

Ali is not giving a empty boast because he has already worked with a firm called Endaga of which he was the co-founder. Endaga was working on a similar project for wireless broadband. Facebook acquired the company last October and Ali joined Facebook.

Ali says that the aim of OpenCellular is to build a a system with very little physical footprint and the ability to use already available infrastructure because the cost of the land, tower, power and security for setting up a cellular network is often higher than that of the actual access point itself.

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Facebook says OpenCellular will consist of two main subsystems: one for general purpose and base-band computing, and one to handle the actual radio. Both of those systems were designed to be somewhat modular. Facebook’s OpenCellular can provide wireless access in remote areas through 2G, LTE network and can also be used to provide a local network.

Facebook says it will open source the hardware design, firmware and control software for OpenCellular so telecom operators, entrepreneurs, researchers and OEMs will be able to build their own versions. It will also donate the work to the Telecom Infra Project to carry out the implementation work.
OpenCellular seems a noble venture from Facebook but Free Basics also seemed noble. It was revealed later on that Free Basics would create a separate Internet which could be used to promote only Facebook thereby angering net neutrality activists. The opposition was so fierce that governments of many countries including India banned Free Basics. It would be worth to take Facebook’s OpenCellular inititative with a pinch of salt.

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