July 13, 2021

Continuing the conversation from the 2021 Facebook Connectivity Workshop

By: Julius Kusuma, Philip Liddell, Erik Boch, Michel Castaldelli, Ulas Kozat, Leonardo Stange

On May 18, Facebook Connectivity invited telecommunications experts from around the world to attend the 2021 Connectivity Research Workshop, where our key partners shared their thoughts on some of our collaborative research activities. To help continue this conversation and further foster community, we are sharing some recordings of the virtual workshop for those who were unable to attend.

At Facebook Connectivity, our mission is to bring more people online to a faster internet. To ensure relevance and impact, we need input from thought leaders in industry and academia to identify the most relevant challenges and promising solutions. We need to work together to ensure that our research and development efforts contribute to impactful and sustainable solution sets.

In this year’s workshop, we worked with our partners from Internet Para Todos, Mayu Telecomunicaciones, and Brisanet to share our learnings and results, and to solicit feedback from telecommunications experts.

“Facebook Connectivity is not just focused on creating technologies,” says Alex Aimé, Director of Network Investments at Facebook Connectivity. “We’re also focused on developing new business models to bring more people online.”

The workshop

Welcome and introductions

Facebook network investments

This talk focused on partnership models and business model innovations driving connectivity solutions in emerging markets.

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for reliable internet access. The internet has enabled people to stay connected, continue their education and work, and take care of their health. However, many parts of the world still lack affordable internet because of an absence of infrastructure. To address this challenge, we develop partnerships to build infrastructure and enable ecosystems to connect many parts of the world, including the recently announced subsea cables connecting Singapore, Indonesia, and North America that will increase overall transpacific capacity by 70 percent.

Partnerships are an important and critical element of our work, as we collaborate closely on business models, technology development, and research investments. This is even more important in emerging markets, where the challenges are multifaceted and complex.

Facebook’s mmWave technologies in challenging urban areas

Underconnected urban and suburban areas have complicated, existing infrastructure that can limit access to high-quality internet. Moreover, dense cities with complicated infrastructure make it very difficult to run fiber to every street or home. By enabling fiberlike speeds using wireless mmWave technology, Facebook’s Terragraph technology allows service providers to provide a high-quality experience at a competitive price.

“It’s not only about the speed and reliability — we also want to make sure the economics work out,” says Grace Chen, Product Manager at Facebook Connectivity. “Customers are our infrastructure and that’s totally different from what people have done.”

A virtuous circle to reduce the rural connectivity divide through innovation

In this talk, we show how Mayu Telecomunicaciones is working together with Facebook, technology vendors, and researchers in a virtuous innovation circle for improving rural connectivity in Peru, focused on two challenging areas: the microwave backhaul and the smart solar power systems.

The digital divide is being reduced every year, thanks to a number of public and private initiatives focused on overcoming the barriers of rural connectivity. This includes lack of power, lack of infrastructure, and difficult terrain. Innovation is a key element of addressing these unique and complex challenges. In order to succeed, innovation should be a continuous cycle of identifying problems, understanding the causes, developing solutions, and testing them in real scenarios in the field. This cycle will be a virtuous circle if it is continuous and if it congregates the key actors — operators, researchers, and technology vendors.

“I imagine this innovation cycle as a wheel, moving in a forward direction through a bumpy road with obstacles,” says Omar Tupayachi Calderon, CEO at Mayu Telecomunicaciones. “We have to work together to ideate the solutions, develop the solutions, test the solutions, and implement them.”

Internet Para Todos and rural network innovations

Internet Para Todos (IpT) is the first-ever Network as a Service designed to bring reliable internet to rural communities in Peru in an economically sustainable way. Facebook partnered with Telefonica and two investment banks (IDB and CAF) to bring IpT to life. To date, IpT has upgraded over 4,000 cell sites from 2G to 4G and improved connectivity for millions of people.

An important element of rural connectivity is backhaul, the links that connect remote sites to the core network of the internet. Wireless backhaul using microwave radio provides low-cost, fast deployment in comparison to other options. IpT network designers and engineers worked together with Facebook to bring the outputs of a major research project — including collaborations with the Ohio State University, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, University of Michigan, MIT, Pathloss, Plexus Controls, and George Mason University — to harness the power of diffractive NLOS wireless links in IpT’s network.

IpT has incorporated diffractive NLOS microwave backhaul links in their network plan, and deployed dozens of diffractive NLOS links. These links provide both backbone and end-point connectivity. The use of NLOS wireless backhaul in the network redesign yields a substantial increase in the network’s coverage and cost performance. Further, this hybrid network design has allowed IpT network designers to make efficient terrestrial network expansion without making the modifications to their infrastructure that would be necessary if only CLOS links were used.

“We [Internet Para Todos] and Facebook continue working together to find new, innovative ways to improve rural connectivity,” says Manuel García López, Head of Transport Network, Internet Para Todos de Perú. “All of this with the sole objective of connecting the unconnected and changing the life of rural people in Peru — why not in the world?”

Brisanet and the open network core evolution

Brisanet was founded in 1997 as a Brazilian Wi-Fi provider covering the northeastern states of Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, and Paraíba. Due to interference issues with the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band, Brisanet switched its focus to fiber optics in 2010. The telco went on to inaugurate its fiber to the home service in Pau dos Ferros (in Rio Grande do Norte) in 2011, delivering one of the country’s first commercial fiber products in the process. The network now surpasses 500,000 homes in 400 towns and cities in the northeast region, and Brisanet is the sixth-largest fixed broadband provider in Brazil, with around 660,000 subscribers.

Brisanet and Facebook are collaborating on several projects including open network core solutions. Distributed network architecture is a key feature in rural deployments, as backbone/backhaul link congestion is a challenge. By using Magma to implement network features at the edge, Brisanet’s users gain performance benefits by decreasing latency, improving quality of service, and decreasing network costs.

In this presentation, Brisanet CEO Roberto Nogueira speaks about his experience working with Facebook, and the deployment of Magma in Brisanet’s production network, the largest such commercial implementation in the world.

“[What Brisanet did] is only possible with Magma, an open source solution we didn’t have to pay a high cost for,” says Nogueira. “I’d also like to add a comment on the importance of connectivity in the rural world […]. These folks are producing the food at people’s tables.”

Closing remarks

What’s next

We believe that close collaboration between academia and industry experts, starting with ideation and conception and continuing through execution and implementation, enables the community to identify research opportunities that will have the greatest impact and relevance, with clear pathways to implementation. We look forward to continued collaboration with the academic community, whether through internships, faculty awards, research awards, visiting researchers or postdocs, or research collaborations.

Additional opportunities to collaborate with connectivity industry partners exist through the Telecom Infra Project. To learn more about our recent publications and other announcements, visit our Connectivity research page.