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Facebook and 5G: The race to 5G gets a whole lot more social Article


Ahead of his speaker appearance at 5G Asia, we spoke with Subbu Subramanian, engineering director at Facebook, to discuss how and why Facebook has jumped into the race to help shape 5G networks, and ultimately deliver the “Internet for all people”.

Opening things up

Earlier this year Facebook and a number of telecom industry leaders unveiled a new initiative, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which aims to speed up the evolution of technologies that drive mobile networks.

The project promotes collaboration across the ecosystem including operators, infrastructure providers, system integrators and other technology companies, and aims to “reimagine the traditional approach to building and deploying telecom network infrastructure”. The likes of SK Telecom, EE, Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Vodafone are already signed on as members.

“No single company can do this alone.”

By leveraging the diverse expertise of members, the project will develop technologies that focus on simplicity, flexibility and efficiency. “When you develop new technology you not only need to build it, but you need to know how to deploy it and make it available to consumers – to make the process simple, and make everything you do more efficient along the way”, says Subbu.

With this in mind, Facebook, alongside industry leaders such as Deutsche Telekom, SK Telecom, Intel and Nokia launched TIP. “TIP will allow us to move at a faster pace to meet new challenges and unlock potential”, says Subbu. “We are really excited about the project and look forward to more people joining in.”

Facebook has a successful precedent of open collaboration through the Open Compute Project, founded back in 2011. The company realized that to accommodate growth, control costs and energy consumptions, a rethink of infrastructure was needed. “We were finding old systems and hardware to be inflexible and expensive, which was not sustainable. We needed to find a new way and so started redesigning our own data center”, says Subbu.

With the Open Compute Project, Facebook made its designs open to the public to try and bring about the same level of creativity and collaboration that we have seen in open source software.

“We opened our designs up so that different companies could build hardware that works for everyone, with a focus on interoperable software. From this experience, we believe working in an open, collaborative setting speeds up progress and innovation. There are a lot of smart people out there who can build upon what’s done, and this can save billions in infrastructure costs”, says Subbu.

What does this all mean for 5G?

It might seem strange that a social media company is leading the charge in driving collaboration in mobile telecoms.

An ultimate end goal of TIP is to quicken the arrival of 5G wireless. Alongside support for IoT applications, 5G will provide the increased speeds necessary to deliver video and virtual reality on our cell phones – and of course via social networks. Speeding up this journey would clearly benefit Facebook, and its consumers.

Facebook-SubbuBut Facebook’s mission has long been underpinned by a desire to “make the world more open and connected”. As such, Subbu is keen to highlight that although 5G provides boundless opportunities, 5G should also be about delivering the “Internet for all people.”

“We think everyone should have fast, reliable network access, and the idea of 5G fits in well with that. There are about 4 billion people in the world still unconnected to the internet, 1.6 billion unconnected because they don’t have proper broadband connectivity. Why is this still the case? We want 5G to be as much about ubiquitous access as it is about IoT“, says Subbu.

Therefore TIP is also focused on developing new technologies and approaches in both developed and emerging markets. The group has already connected a small village in the Philippines, and EE are piloting a community-run 4G coverage solution in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands.

Subbu describes the possible impact ubiquitous access and next generation networks might have on his life, and those closest to him:

“I come from a small rural village in India where my parents still live. We keep in touch by telephone using 2G. My children are growing up here in Silicon Valley, and it’s sad that my parents can’t fully participate in their lives. I look forward to the day when my parents can enjoy an immersive experience watching their grandchildren in a recital. They would take real joy in that.”

As the saying goes “many hands make light work”, and the sooner networks evolve the sooner connectivity can improve for people everywhere.

Subbu spoke at the 5G Asia event in Singapore. “I’m excited to meet as many people as possible from across the ecosystem, to discuss new approaches and to make great strides for the future. Asia is an important continent in terms of 5G, where strides have already been made but there is lots of work still to do”, says Subbu.


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