Facebook OpenCellular Takes Internet to Rural Communities


Facebook has continued on its mission to spread connectivity to every neighborhood on the globe with the unveiling of OpenCellular, a platform that will give essential connectivity to far-flung rural communities. Facebook will provide the draft for what is needed to support cellular access, complete with open-source software that lets potential partners update and tweak the service to meet a community’s needs.

It would be recalled that few months ago, Facebook in partnership with Airtel kicked off its Free Basics program in Nigeria, a service that provides basic mobile websites and services for free to people around the world and demonstrating the value the internet can provide.

The idea, which is a priority for Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg marks the company’s latest attempt to push its goal of worldwide access, which aims to connect about 4 billion people without internet access and the 10 percent of the population without cellular service. “OpenCellular is the next step on our journey to provide better, more affordable connectivity to bring the world closer together”, Zuckerberg states.

OpenCellular is created to work in rural locations with harsh conditions. Facebook will give communities the directives, along with the construction supplies, on how to construct a system that is weather-proof, able to withstand high winds and severe temperatures, and easy to run. OpenCellular only requires one person to complete installation and can be hung from a post a few feet high or at the top of a tree.

 Since Facebook will not be doing the deployments itself, the project will probably lean on telecom operators, software developers and researchers to build the devices. After completing the system, technicians can monitor and operate the device remotely. To ensure little need for physical maintenance, the system can reconfigure itself if an issue arises and will notify a remote centre if there is a problem it cannot fix on its own. It can run on solar power, external or internal batteries, through an ethernet, or by direct current, making it easier to implement for a wide variety of areas.

This is not a premier for Facebook in its effort to bring wireless to the masses. In April, the company unveiled Terragraph, a project dedicated to increasing internet speed in densely-populated areas, and Aries, a network used to replace slower services in lower-income, provincial areas. The company looks to integrate Aries technology to provide support for OpenCellular.

Facebook plans to begin beta testing the service this year and hopes to make the devices as cost-effective for developing countries as possible. Expect Nigerians to benefit from this too. Companies hoping to invest can think of OpenCellular as a gateway into reaching the most rural areas on earth and a way for telecom groups to deploy networks in communities they could not have before.

While Facebook is helping developing countries with the platform, it is also a good business decision for the company. Employing OpenCellular to connect those hard-to-reach people translates to more potential users on its network.

Facebook has been testing the system in-house and will work with Telecom Infra Project, the company’s engineering-driven initiative for developing new ways to distribute telecom infrastructure, to find appropriate trial areas for OpenCellular.