5G should be about ubiquity, not just faster broadband: Facebook

facebook and 5G
“5G should be about delivering connectivity to the ends of the earth,” says Facebook engineering director Subbu Subramanian

Not a lot of people know that Facebook is in the 5G business – but it is, via the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), and Facebook’s engineering director took the stage at 5G Asia in Singapore Wednesday to make the case that 5G should mean literally ubiquitous connectivity.

“5G isn’t just about fast speeds – 5G should be about delivering connectivity to the ends of the earth,” said Subbu Subramanian.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of bridging the digital divide is no secret – he’s spent the last couple of years promoting ways to connect the unconnected via projects like Internet.org.

But Facebook has also been involved with TIP, which includes a number of telecoms operators and vendors and is essentially an open-source collaborative approach to developing next-gen telecoms technology innovations more quickly that can be applied mainly (but not exclusively) to underconnected and unconnected rural areas.

“We want 5G to be ubiquitous. New technologies are needed to overcome the barriers preventing that: affordability, awareness and infrastructure,” Subramanian said.

To that end, Subramanian showcased TIP projects ranging from UAVs, satellite and free space optics to cellular infrastructure technologies like Aries and OpenCellular.

Aries is a massive MIMO tower that features 96 antennas that can transmit 24 simultaneous streams on the same frequency band, with a spectral efficiency of 71 bps per Hz. TIP aims to get that up to over 100 bps/Hz.

Meanwhile, OpenCellular is an open-source software-defined base station that supports 2G, 3G and 4G, and is designed to be modular, scalable, rugged and easy to mount anywhere at any height. Also, it’s “network-in-a-box” design means it can work without a backhaul link – which means villages could deploy their own private 4G network.

“All of these are building blocks to enable rural connectivity,” Subramanian said.

TIP isn’t just focused on rural connectivity, he added – its Terragraph solution enables deployment of distributed Wi-Fi and small cells on street furniture to boost capacity in dense urban areas where usage of 5G apps and services will generate heavy traffic usage.

Subramanian assured the audience that Facebook isn’t getting into the telecoms sector so much as it’s hoping to grease the skids to accelerate technological innovations that can speed up rollouts to rural areas and make them economically feasible.

“We don’t want to be a telco,” he said. “We want the technology to get better as soon as it can.”

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