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Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction as Investors Doubt Open Source Payback

Iain Morris

In a bid to overcome startup and investor doubts about open source technology, social networking giant Facebook is setting up a new group within or alongside its Telecom Infra Project (TIP) that will support the licensing of network technologies on "reasonable and non-discriminatory" (RAND) terms, Light Reading has learned.

The move reflects concern about the business model surrounding open source technology, Facebook acknowledged, and risks upsetting open source players that have regarded the Internet behemoth as an unwavering ally.

Launched in early 2016, TIP was conceived as a challenge to the slow-moving network equipment industry and has been taking advantage of open source code and software to speed up the development of new low-cost and innovative technologies. (See Facebook: TIP Will Open Telecom Hardware.)

Operator members such as Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and France's Orange (NYSE: FTE) have made a strong commitment to open source technology as they look to accelerate innovation and cut ties with vendors building proprietary systems.

Open source vendor advocates such as Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) have prospered by selling support services and subscriptions around open source code, which is made freely available to the wider community.

But the model has its share of critics. "I have yet to understand why we would open source something we think is really good software," said Ulf Ewaldsson, the head of digital services for Sweden's Ericsson, in a recent conversation with Light Reading. (See Open Sores: Are Telcos on a Collision Course With Vendors?)

Unlike Finnish rival Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is not currently a member of TIP, although Facebook executives say they talk with the company on a regular basis.

The latest rumblings about open source, however, have come from at least one of Facebook's startup partners as well as sections of the investment community.

A small developer of virtual radio access network (or V-RAN) technology, Amarisoft was this week chosen along with three other startups to receive support from both Facebook and Orange as part of a new initiative aimed at bolstering young telecom infrastructure players. (See Orange, VCs Commit $113M to Network Startups as 'Black Box' Frustration Mounts.)

But Amarisoft CEO Franck Spinelli lashed out at TIP during a pitch to investors and Orange executives in Paris earlier this week, blaming TIP's commitment to open source for the lack of progress his business has made.

"We don't want to let our technology go for nothing. We want money for that and if you take the approach of open source it has to be free and so there is incompatibility there," he said. "We are losing time… I don't know what to think about TIP and what your real intention is behind that but I have been disappointed so far with this project."

For more NFV-related coverage and insights, check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.

Responding to the criticisms, Steve Jarrett, who heads up infrastructure partnerships for Facebook in Europe and the Middle East, revealed that Facebook was evolving partly toward a RAND model as opposed to one based entirely around open source.

"There is a new group starting that will not have an open source license because that is obviously very difficult for investors to invest in," he said. "So the new group will have a RAND license which is a lot more investable. So the timing is really good now for us to take advantage of your technology and share it with other TIP members."

RAND licensing is typically associated with standards-setting organizations striking deals with companies that hold standard-essential patents. It is an approach with which Ericsson is very familiar. (See Patents Prizefight Pending: Clash of the Tech Titans.)

Jarrett also indicated that V-RAN is one of the biggest priorities for mobile operators that have been talking to Facebook about their future network needs.

Speaking to Light Reading on the sidelines of the investor event, Bertrand Rojat, the deputy vice president of Orange's Technocentre R&D unit, expressed sympathy with Spinelli's comments and said that a balance would have to be found between open source and proprietary technology.

"He is saying my business model is not advertising or end-user subscriptions and that I'm a software guy and so I need to license my product, which is just common sense," said Rojat. "[Open source] doesn't mean there is no proprietary overlay on what you are developing -- we have to find the right balance."

Deutsche Telekom's Axel Clauberg, who has been closely involved with TIP, denies there are concerns about the open source business model and says that RAND moves reflect "the IPR [intellectual property rights] reality we are facing in this industry."

"TIP is dealing with more than just open source," he said in emailed comments. "We are dealing with hardware, and we are working in patent-rich areas like mobile."

Working groups in TIP have been able to decide between RAND and "royalty-free" rules from the very outset, added Clauberg.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Lightning
6/9/2017 | 6:08:53 AM
Opensource should can be ac "catch"
Very nice piece. It expresses some of my sentiments in the past on same, and also puts out some good questions on the Carrier-Vendor connudrum going forward around software/solutions.

My question i guess then is why can't OpenSource be leveraged as an R&D & Innovtion strategy vehicle, enabling determine best direction or perhaps even find directions that may not work or not for capabilities and market needs? Can piecing together OpenSource and RAND be hybrid model that can enable win-win for both Carriers and Vendors? 
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
6/8/2017 | 11:15:19 AM
Re: Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction
This is obviously a critical issue for the entire industry. I hear from vendors that claim to be pro-open source that they can make money in this field, but it's mostly going to be through software distribution and professional services. But they are quick to point out that open source reduces their costs as well and the open source community will help them develop software faster, innovate faster and solve problems faster. 

And I hear from network operators that they want their vendors to succeed, but that success can't happen on proprietary hardware..period. Shawn Hakl of Verizon made that point very strongly this week and he was urging vendors to move faster away from their traditional integrated hardware-software models, but he didn't specifically call out open source software. 

So there are a lot of nuances here to be parsed and discussed. It's going to be a fun summer. 
Craig Matsumoto
Craig Matsumoto,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/8/2017 | 10:53:28 AM
Re: Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction
Gabe's point about a transition is spot-on. The usual path is to sell a version with proprietary add-ons. Open source doesn't have to mean free ("free" as in beer).

Thing is, nobody other than Red Hat has ever built a complete, long-term business based solely on open source software. Companies try (maybe Mirantis is getting there), and I applaud that -- but to be dragged into open source when that wasn't your first intention ... I can see why startups would balk at that.
Sterling Perrin
Sterling Perrin,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/8/2017 | 10:29:21 AM
Re: Story update
<Deutsche Telekom's Axel Clauberg, who has been closely involved with TIP, denies there are concerns about the open source business model and says that RAND moves reflect "the IPR [intellectual property rights] reality we are facing in this industry.">

I have alot of respect for Axel, but this statement is not consistent with what I'm hearing. I'm wondering if vendors are being less candid with Axel, for fear of upsetting a big gorilla (metaphorically speaking, Axel looks nothing like a gorilla ...)

Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/8/2017 | 10:17:47 AM
Re: Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction
It feels like a transition period -- I don't see a fundamental problem. A lot of operator consumption of open source network software will be commercially supported distribitions (a la RedHat). Application vendors can still sell proprietary software into that environment, with the obvious caveat that you need a good product to charge good money.

Where there's a hardware component (TIP is focusing quite a bit on hardware), support for "open" systems needs to be even better to match the vendor systems.
User Rank: Blogger
6/8/2017 | 9:56:13 AM
Story update
We've updated the story since it was first published with some comments from Deutsche Telekom's Axel Clauberg.
Sterling Perrin
Sterling Perrin,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/8/2017 | 9:41:59 AM
Re: Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction
The broader open source issue was a big topic at BCE - spurred by Steve's keynote - so I've been asking alot of questions around this lately. Maybe it's no surprise, but the service providers themselves are still very much in favor of the open source model, but the vendors (privately, and now more publicly) are the ones with  a lot of issues with it.

So I think this money-making angle gets right to the heart of the issue (for TIP and for other telecom open source). Personally, I think making money for the vendors is a bigger challenge than the general quality of the open source code. 

Looking at TIP specifically, from my conversations, I've concluded that many participants are "going through the motions" on the project, but are clearly going to put their own home-grown products forward as the commercial solution at every opportunity. So true vendor buy-in will be needed at some point for TIP. 



Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
6/8/2017 | 9:29:05 AM
Re: Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction
So I wonder how folks like the Linux Foundation are going to respond to things like this. We heard a lot of rumblings about this at the Open Networking Summit this year including multiple acknowledgements that the current model isn't working for vendors - I wrote about it here: http://www.lightreading.com/open-source/industry-bodies-groups/open-source-boom-not-without-challenges/d/d-id/731798.

I wouldn't be surprised to see greater efforts to find a way for vendors to license technology within the open source model or alongside of it. 


Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/8/2017 | 8:35:18 AM
Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction
Good piece Iain. Some of this trailed at BCE this year, if I recall correctly. Can't remember who it was now, but one of the keynotes (Clauberg, DT?) mentioned that TIP recognizes that companies need to be paid for their development if they are to continue investing.

The comments from the Amarisoft CEO are especially clear. Amarisoft has developed an eNB stack you can run on COTS hardware. Exactly the type of company the TIP ecosystem needs.
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