When Facebook launched its Telecom Infra Project (TIP) in early 2016, open source principles seemed essential to its mission. By encouraging members to pool their expertise, and even forego the royalty payments they would normally expect from intellectual property, Facebook aimed to spur innovation and lower costs in the market for telecom network equipment. (See Facebook TIPs Telcos Towards Open Source Networks.)
Through its Open Compute Project, Facebook had already made an impact on the data center market under an open source banner. Carrying the revolution into telecom would allow operators to build networks in places formerly considered off-limits because of deployment costs. That promised millions of new users for the social networking giant's expanding portfolio of online services.
Yet a number of technology suppliers involved with TIP harbor deep misgivings about open source technology. Those range from the very biggest to the very smallest players. For some, open source is simply incompatible with the need to make money. At worst, it is an existential threat. Others regard open source as an unstoppable force, and are trying to adapt or position themselves accordingly. But even here there is anxiety about its long-term implications.
The biggest player to have joined TIP, while being consumed with doubt about the open source movement, is Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK). "Intellectual property is a key asset for companies like Nokia," explains Hossein Moiin, the Finnish vendor's chief technology officer. "Many initiatives have licensing terms that require you to give that away and those will not work for us." As far as Moiin is concerned, most open source projects have not shown much promise, either. "The only one that has been quite successful is Linux," he says, in a reference to the world-famous operating system for computers.
This means Nokia is participating in TIP very warily, acknowledges Moiin. "Membership is very selective in TIP," he says. "It is made up of many projects and we contribute to some but not all." He also denies there is widespread telco frustration with the modus operandi of the traditional vendors, and thinks TIP's efforts may ultimately prove futile. "Every five to six years someone tries to decompose the telecom stack to save money," he says. "They quickly discover the stack is rapidly commoditizing itself anyway and so they give up."
At the opposite end of the scale, even stronger criticism has come from a startup called Amarisoft, whose software could help service providers to "virtualize" their radio access networks (RANs). During a recent investor conference in Paris, hosted by French telecom incumbent Orange (NYSE: FTE), Amarisoft CEO Franck Spinelli said his company's aversion to open sourcing its technology had encountered "strong resistance" within TIP. "We don't want to let our technology go for nothing," he told his audience. "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." (See Facebook Takes TIP in New Direction as Investors Doubt Open Source Payback.)
Next page: Not so open source after all