Facebook creates wireless internet system for developing world

The social media company plans to make the system freely available so that it is more cost-effective for operators in places where coverage is scarce.

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Facebook has announced it is developing wireless internet access hardware and software that can be used in areas where the current infrastructure doesn’t support connectivity.

OpenCellular is designed to tackle the problem of 4bn people around the world still not having basic internet access, while 10% of the world’s population live outside the range of cellular activity, according to the United Nations’ Broadband Commission.

The hardware is currently the size of a shoe box and can support up to 1,500 people as far as 10km away.

2G, LTE and Wi-Fi

Due to the system’s computing and storage, it can be used as a network-in-a-box or purely as a cellular access point, meaning that it can be customised to provide internet access in the form of 2G, LTE or Wi-Fi.

It has also been adapted to take in multiple input power sources, including PoE (power-over-ethernet), solar, DC, external batteries (seal lead acid) and internal battery (lithium-ion).

In order to withstand extreme weather conditions such as high winds and rugged climates, the OpenCellular device has sensors to monitor temperature, voltage and current, and can be deployed by one person at a range of heights – from a pole a few metres off the ground to a tall tower or tree.

“more affordable connectivity”

Facebook’s main goal in developing the technology is to make it affordable for operators and entrepreneurs to deploy networks in places where coverage is currently minimal or non-existent.

The social media company has said it will open-source the hardware and software design, making it freely available and more cost-effective for existing and potential operators.

In a post on his Facebook page, Mark Zuckerberg writes: “OpenCellular is the next step on our journey to provide better, more affordable connectivity to bring the world closer together.”

The system is currently being tested in labs at Facebook HQ in California. So far it has been able to send and receive text messages, make voice calls and use 2G data connectivity.

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Images from OpenCellular 

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