Facebook announces OpenCellular open-source telecoms platform

7 Jul 2016

As part of its latest efforts to connect remote areas of the planet to the web, but rather than sending more drones into the sky, Facebook is set to roll out OpenCellular, an open-source wireless-access platform.

Facebook has plenty of experience at this stage with rolling out cellular technology, having led the Internet.org project, which has so far seen free internet services rolled out across a number of countries, including India and Zambia, albeit somewhat controversially.

While much of this began with the development and deployment of drones that beam internet signal down to remote areas of the planet, Facebook has now announced a much cheaper platform for companies to begin working with.

Called OpenCellular, the platform looks much-like a small-scale cellular tower that can be installed easily in remote locations that, once connected to a network access point, can begin transmitting a signal that supports 2G, up to LTE.

In its announcement of the new platform, Facebook said its creation came following the realisation that current cellular networks are too expensive and labour-intensive for areas with limited access.

OpenCelluar 2

Image via Facebook

This does not even take into account the fact that running costs – including security, regular power supply etc – far outstrip the initial deployment cost within a short space of time, making it unfeasible.

While initially Facebook plans to roll this out as its own endeavour, it has said that, after an unspecified amount of time, the hardware behind OpenCellular will become open source.

This includes its computing components – such as the microprocessor, sensors and power settings – as well as making it capable of being powered by multiple sources, such as DC, solar or internal batteries like lithium-ion.

Open Cellular 3

Image via Facebook

Its external casing has also been designed to withstand very harsh weather conditions – given it’s supposed to be deployed in low-population regions – and it takes just one person to deploy the device on anything from a pole to a tall tree.

OpenCellular as a telecoms platform is not the finished article just yet, however, as testing continues on its capabilities, with it having so far managed to just achieve the ability to send and receive SMS messages, make voice calls, and use basic data connectivity using 2G.

On his Facebook page, its founder Mark Zuckerberg said of its potential: “Along with our solar-powered aircraft Aquila and high-bandwidth laser beams, OpenCellular is the next step on our journey to provide better, more affordable connectivity to bring the world closer together.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic