Facebook’s Open-Source Telecom Project Challenges Telcos

Voyager, Facebook’s telecom infrastructure effort, is a side project, but it’s still rattling the telecom industry, which worries that revenues from its specialized products are at risk. Facebook and European telecom company Telia tested Voyager over the latter’s thousand-kilometer-telecom network, and German-based ADVA Optical Networking, which is manufacturing the device, has nine potential customers trying it out. Also testing Voyager is Paris-based Orange, working with Equinix and African telecom company MTN.

Business Insider reports that Voyager is “the first product, and a major proving point, for Facebook’s young Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP),” a Facebook-led consortium that launched at the 2016 Mobile World Congress. TIP, a spin-off from Facebook’s Open Compute Project, is the company’s effort to “take control over the technology it uses to support over 1.8 billion people uploading billions of photos, videos and updates every day.”

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Facebook open sources all its hardware designs, which enables other companies to easily “help in maintaining and advancing its infrastructure.” As a result, such gear is “cheaper to build and easier to maintain than standard gear made by companies like Dell, HP, EMC and Cisco.” OCP, says BI, “has radically changed the data center tech industry and those involved say it has created a cult-like following,” with Apple, Hewlett Packard and Dell eventually joining the organization.

Facebook’s focus is to “usher in a new way to build computer networks,” by taking the complexity out of the hardware and putting it into the software, which telecom service providers dub Network Function Virtualization (NFV). Facebook’s efforts with OCP and TIP are forcing giant telecom networks to move towards this paradigm, not just due to big growth and tight budgets but the competition for talent.

Today, top engineers are attracted to Internet companies, in part because of the attraction of sharing intellectual property based on the “Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory Terms (RAND)” principle whereby vendors are “paid tiny fees by everyone who uses their intellectual property as long as those fees are reasonable and the tech is made available to everyone without bias.”

TIP also creates a “culture” working group that “helps teach telecom engineers how to ‘work fast and break things’ as the Internet world does.” For telcos to keep up, the best path is to collaborate with Facebook and its ilk, applying innovations to their industry sector.