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Facebook spearheads Telecom Infra Project to speed up innovation

ITEM: Facebook has corralled several big-name telecoms operators and vendors to form the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) with the ultimate goal of finding ways to help telcos open their infrastructure and scale it fast enough to keep up with escalating demand for data-hungry services.

TIP was unveiled at the start of Mobile World Congress 2016 in Barcelona. In addition to Facebook, founding members include SK Telecom, Globe Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, EE, Intel and Nokia, along with “other operators, equipment providers, systems integrators and technology companies”.

According to a blog post announcing the project, TIP is “an engineering-focused initiative” in which members will develop “new technologies and reimagine traditional approaches to building and deploying telecom network infrastructure.”

Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure, says that with more and more people and devices getting connected, and as it becomes easier to share data-intensive things like video and virtual reality, traditional telecoms infrastructure must scale to meet that demand. And while telcos are working on this, Facebook thinks they’re not working nearly fast enough:

We know there isn’t a single solution for this, and no one company can tackle the problem alone. Driving a faster pace of innovation in telecom infrastructure is necessary to meet these new technology challenges and to unlock new opportunities for everyone in the ecosystem.

As such, says Parikh, TIP is intended to do for the pace of telecoms infrastructure innovation what Facebook’s Open Compute Project is attempting to do for data centers – getting telecoms companies to collaborate and to work in the open:

To kick-start this work, TIP members such as Facebook, Intel, and Nokia have pledged to contribute an initial suite of reference designs, while other members such as operators Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom will help define and deploy the technology as it fits their needs.

Parikh says TIP members will work together to contribute designs in three areas – access, backhaul, and core and management – applying OCP models of "openness and disaggregation" to spur innovation.

According to announcements from Globe and SKT, in the short term TIP will “focus primarily on disaggregating the hardware and software layers in the traditional network stack and recombining those elements in ways that enable significant efficiency gains in urban and rural deployments. TIP will also collaborate on the acceleration of technologies like 5G and the development of new technologies that will pave the way for better connectivity and richer services.”

SK Telecom said it plans to contribute to TIP by sharing its 5G-related technologies/services, and network solutions based on SDN and NFV.

Nokia said its contributions to TIP include publishing an open specification for the operability interface associated with the radio access run time environment, which is traditionally proprietary. Nokia said the open interface will allow development of new, innovative and vendor-neutral radio solutions for new market segments.

From the press release:

The open interface will also enable innovation for faster and simpler cell site or node implementations that can be built and deployed by 3rd parties. This gives operators a simpler business model for building coverage where traditional deployments would not be economically feasible. In order to further encourage 3rd party participation, Nokia will provide a program to cross-check compatibility with the open interface.

[…] Nokia aims to provide an open base station hardware platform, and a reference design and hardware specification of it. The initial specifications are targeted to be available in the first half of 2016, and to be enhanced gradually. Nokia will provide components, modules or a reference platform, as well as complete base stations, to parties that want to build TIP Access Points.

Earlier this month, SKT, EE and Deutsche Telekom joined another Facebook-led innovation project: the OCP Telco Project, an open forum that aims to facilitate telco input into OCP and bring OCP innovations to telcos’ data center infrastructure.