Facebook, Intel, Nokia Partner to Open Up Telco Networks

The companies launch the TIP initiative to bring the open development model of the Open Compute Project to carrier network infrastructures.

telco networks

Facebook officials want to apply the same principles behind its Open Compute Project to the telecommunications industry.

The company is partnering with tech vendors such as Intel and Nokia and network operators like Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom to launch the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which aims to use the open-development philosophies that have driven the work of the Open Compute Project (OCP) to enable carriers and service providers to more quickly and affordably develop telco networking gear to handle the onslaught of connected devices and bandwidth-intensive applications like video and virtual reality.

"Scaling traditional telecom infrastructure to meet this global data challenge is not moving as fast as people need it to," Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure at Facebook, wrote in a post on the company blog. "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."

The OCP was created with the idea of using an open-source development philosophy similar to that found around such software as Linux. Over the past several years, the work at the OCP has expanded beyond servers and into networking and storage equipment. Now Facebook wants to use the same ideas for telco infrastructure, Parikh wrote. At the start, Facebook, Intel and Nokia will contribute a suite of reference designs that carriers and service providers can use to more quickly build their new networks.

In addition, Deutsche Telekom and SK Telecom will define and deploy the technology in ways that better fit their needs. TIP members will apply the OCP ideas around openness and disaggregation while focusing on three areas—access, backhaul and core management, he wrote.

"In what is a traditionally closed system, component pieces will be unbundled, affording operators more flexibility in building networks," Parikh wrote. "This will result in significant gains in cost and operational efficiency for both rural and urban deployments. As the effort progresses, TIP members will work together to accelerate development of technologies like 5G that will pave the way for better connectivity and richer services."

Standards for 5G are still in development and are not expected until around 2020, but tech vendors and network operators are laying the groundwork now in anticipation of the next step in cellular networking. Efforts around 5G will be a central part of this week's Mobile World Congress 2016 show in Barcelona, Spain. Telcos expect 5G to bring 100 times the throughput capabilities of current 4G networks.

In his blog post, Parikh noted that Facebook has worked with Globe Telecom—another TIP member—to launch a pilot network deployment that embraced TIP principles. The pilot project brought connectivity to a small village in the Philippines.

"Working to enable operators and the broader telecom industry to be more flexible, innovative, and efficient is important for expanding connectivity," he wrote.

Intel initially is contributing a reference design for a modular access point based on Intel Architecture and a mobile edge computing reference design kit with open software interfaces, Lynn Comp, director of market development at Intel, wrote in a blog post on the TIP site. In addition, the company will also provide software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV) reference designs based on standard server technology and open interfaces, Comp wrote.

For its part, Nokia at first will contribute an open specification for the operability interface used with the radio access run-time environment, something that usually is vendor-specific, Henri Tervonen, head of architecture and technology at the company, wrote in a blog post on the TIP Website.

"We expect TIP efforts to result in the dramatic reduction of overhead associated with providing mobile coverage by simplifying network build-outs," Tervonen wrote. "It will be possible for operators, enterprises, and other vertical players to build faster and simpler mobile broadband spot coverage in rural, suburban, enterprise, and urban environments compared to using traditional mobile network implementation models."

There are currently 30 members of TIP, including Equinix, Radisys, Nexius and Aricent.