AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event -- 2016 ATIS 5G Symposium -- Facebook says its Terragraph system could revolutionize service provider economics, insisting the cost point it is targeting for the wireless technology is "significantly" less than that of rival connectivity solutions.
Announced last month, Terragraph uses unlicensed spectrum in the 60GHz range to provide high-speed connectivity in densely populated communities. (See Facebook Debuts Terragraph & ARIES to Extend Wireless.)
The social networking giant says it plans to make Terragaph available to service providers through its recently launched Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which is developing open source network technologies in partnership with various telecom operators and vendors. (See Facebook TIPs Telcos Towards Open Source Networks.)
"There is lots to figure out and we'll share findings with the community but we see a real cost decrease," said Hans-Juergen Schmidtke, the director of engineering for Facebook 's Infrastructure Foundation team, during a Monday keynote presentation at the ATIS 5G Symposium, which took place in advance of this week's Big Communications Event. "We have done [cost point] studies and have a team comparing different options for coverage, and we believe Terragraph will be significantly cheaper."
Facebook has been testing Terragraph at its campus in Menlo Park and has also revealed plans to run trials in the downtown part of nearby San Jose.
Because Terragraph works in such high frequency bands, the network nodes are being spaced at intervals of just 250 meters, making it unsuitable for use outside densely populated urban environments.
But Facebook has been drawing on its open source technology expertise to reduce costs. That has included the development of Open/R, a software system that ensures signals take the most efficient route across the network. (See Facebook Likes Software Routing for Its Gigabit Radios.)
The use of unlicensed spectrum should also keep a lid on expenses. Moreover, Facebook has claimed that by using radios based on WiFi-related WiGig technology it has been able to create nodes that are "inexpensive relative to traditional telecom infrastructure."
As a backhaul solution, Terragraph can relay signals to Ethernet boxes installed at customer premises and support the rollout of WiFi and small cell services.
Terragraph is not the only connectivity technology that Facebook has been developing. Outside urban areas, the company has been exploring the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to provide basic Internet services across vast areas. (See Google Working With FAA on US Drone License.)
Project ARIES, meanwhile, makes use of massive MIMO technology to cram more antennas into a basestation and boost spectral efficiency accordingly.
Facebook claims a basestation equipped with as many as 96 antennas can support 24 streams over the same spectrum at the same time, achieving spectral efficiency of 71 bits per second per Hertz (bps/Hz). Schmidtke says 100bps/Hz is the ultimate goal.
"One of the big opportunities with the latest basestation technologies is connecting people within range of big cities," he said. "If we can find ways of backhauling traffic from the cities to the suburbs we could connect maybe 97% of the world population."
Facebook's activities around Terragraph, ARIES and UAVs suggest the Internet company is considering whether to become a mobile network operator in its own right, but Schmidtke insisted this would not happen.
"We are not interested in becoming an operator," he said. "We want to drive cost per bandwidth down … and we're in the process of making the technology available to a wider community."
He also indicated that Facebook would be making a news announcement on Tuesday regarding progress at the Telecom Infrastructure Project, whose members include Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), EE , Equinix Inc. (Nasdaq: EQIX), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM).
Facebook hopes the Telecom Infrastructure Project will foster telecom innovation in the same way its Open Compute Project is targeting improvements in the market for data center technologies.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading