SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Facebook showed at a gathering of the Telecom Infra Project here its design for an open source cellular base station that could cost less than $1,000. For TIP, the question for the coming year is whether such systems make it into broad deployment.
To gain an edge on larger rivals such as Amazon and Google, Facebook launched the group of carriers and partners in early 2016 to jointly build software-defined networks. SDN is a broad industry move that aims to shave costs by moving functions to high-level software from relatively expensive systems using proprietary ASICs and protocols.
So far, TIP has laid out a compelling business case, staffed a variety of work groups and produced a few interesting prototypes.
If all goes well, a handful of carriers will start field trials of the open-source GSM base station before April and an LTE version before June. A module announced here will connect the systems to battery, solar or utility power sources.
A parallel effort spawned a low-cost, open-source core network switch made by Taiwan’s Accton that carriers will test in Africa and Latin America soon. Cumulus Networks said it will port its Linux-based networking software to the switch.
At the event, TIP kicked off a new working group to explore open source versions of a radio-access network based on x86 servers a separate effort to apply machine learning to network planning. It already runs a handful of projects on topics such as edge computing and millimeter wave designs for last-mile access, leveraging Facebook’s 60 GHz Terragraph system.
Facebook RF engineer Srinivas Sriram showed the open source RF board for a GSM base station he designed. (Images: EE Times)
The focus on gaining new users while lowering costs is critical for carriers.
“We continue to see exponential traffic growth with no end, our production costs are increasing and the ARPU for traditional triple- or quad-play services is flat or declining,” said Axel Clauberg, TIP’s chair and vice president of technology innovation for Deutsche Telekom AG, calling TIP “the most important transformation project in the industry.”
But change comes hard. “Many people are in monitoring mode, we need people to move into contributing,” he said, calling for carriers to get more engaged.
Executives from BT, Telefonica and Vodaphone joined TIP’s board recently and China Unicom became a TIP member. AT&T seems to be playing a lower profile role than in the past, while Verizon and China’s top two carriers were not active at the event.
“It is still very early, but we want to get to large deployments,” said Jay Parikh, head of infrastructure and engineering at Facebook who helped launch the group.
To that end, he described the group’s work helping lay a shared fiber optic cable to an area serving three million people in Uganda. A separate effort hopes to deploy a cellular network in a remote area of Peru where 8 million people live.
In addition, TIP encouraged carriers to launch accelerators in Asia and Europe that have raised more than $200 million and funded ten startups to date.
One of the startups, Amarisoft of France, claims it has put into a production network software it developed to run LTE baseband functions on a quad-core 2.4 GHz x86 server. The code enables round-trip latency of 1.5 milliseconds for an IQ sample over a 2x2 MIMO FDD network running in a 20 MHz channel, said chief executive Franck Spinelli.
Next page: A closer look at two cellular boards