Facebook's TIP & Telcos Upend Old Operational Models
At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Light Reading sat down with Facebook's Jay Parikh to take a closer look at how the Telecom Infra Project has changed the social media giant's relationship with telecom operators and why connecting the unconnected has become a bigger priority for Facebook.
Parikh, Facebook 's head of engineering and infrastructure, led a press conference with Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN), Orange (NYSE: FTE) and Telefónica at MWC to provide an update on how Facebook and its fellow Telecom Infra Project (TIP) operator partners are re-thinking operational models when it comes to bringing connectivity to rural markets. (See Facebook Expands Rural Efforts With TIP Team.)
Around 2013, Facebook's mission shifted from focusing heavily on developing its own applications to addressing infrastructure challenges to global connectivity, Parikh tells Light Reading.
"Within Facebook over the last couple of years we've been really focused on the infrastructure barriers and that's where we've been working as part of the Telecom Infra Project -- working with the telecom operators to really understand what those infrastructure barriers are -- is it capacity, planning, cost, a reliability issue?"
One of the major challenges TIP is focused on is identifying an operating model for delivering connectivity to rural areas. Telefonica and Facebook are collaborating on defining an operating model to bring connectivity to 20,000 people in rural communities in Peru, and Parikh hopes these learnings can be applied to other future connectivity efforts in rural regions that Vodafone and Orange are targeting in Africa, for example.
The challenge in delivering connectivity to rural populations is not only in the topology of the land, which of course is vastly different from the urban environments that telcos specialize in. Operators might not be able to charge as much for data in a rural area, and also have to balance the infrastructure investment, including fiber, radio, maintenance, power, says Parikh. (See OrbTV: Telefónica's Lopez on Open Source for Network Automation & Virtualization.)
In collaborating with Telefónica, Facebook aims to develop a "durable and sustainable operating model" for rural deployments that can be scaled out to more of Latin America.
"Also from an open perspective, this is where TIP is really cool, is that these operators like Telefonica will be able to share what they've learned and the operating model back into the TIP community so that other operators can take that learning and bootstrap similar efforts," he adds.
While Facebook's historical relationship with telcos was more "business related," Parikh says that's changing with TIP to focus collaboratively "on the infrastructure and the technology side of things" and launch a coordinated effort across engineering teams to solve major technological issues the telecom industry is facing.
Next page: Terragraph and TEAC
Terragraph and TEAC
One effort that echoes this changing relationship is in the development of Facebook's Terragraph millimeter-wave technology, which is in field trials by operator partners, and can be utilized in urban environments that require higher bandwidths. Deutsche Telekom and Telenor will be testing the technology in Budapest and Kuala Lumpur, respectively; Parikh says this type of collaboration between Facebook and operators would have been more difficult prior to the establishment of more open collaborations via TIP.
"Now they're able to bring our AI, computer vision and data science expertise along with their performance network management expertise, combine that, and if we could do a network plan for something like Terragraph in hours or days that's a substantial win for the operators."
In addition to changing operators' relationships with Facebook, TIP also provides new avenues for operators to collaborate with vendors. Established about a year ago, the TIP Ecosystem Acceleration Center (TEAC) program addresses operators' concerns that venture capitalist firms weren't investing in startups focused on "building technology destined for the telco industry directly," says Parikh.
"Because it's the operators leading the coordination and the assembly of the center itself, they have a relationship with the startups so the startups are able to develop their technology, and most importantly, deploy it in the operator network so there's this tight, immediate feedback and use case-driven co-development that happens."
Through TEAC, service providers work with VCs and startups to identify and solve issues telcos or traditional vendors weren't able to tackle themselves, he adds. SK Telecom was the first operator to start a TEAC, in Seoul, followed by BT in the UK, Orange in Paris, and most recently Deutsche Telekom, which will launch TEAC Germany in Berlin. Parikh says TEAC introduces a shared incentive model where startups can deploy their equipment faster and telcos have more direct input in the development of that technology.
"TIP kicked off two years ago to bring together the broader base of operators and other technology companies to try to organize and drive the innovation and to solve these problems faster … TIP is 500 people and 11 working groups -- not bad for two years of work," says Parikh.
— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading