Facebook device could bring Internet to four corners of the earth

OpenCellular is the size of a shoebox and could connect remote areas

facebook open cellular
Facebook is working on a device that could be attached to anything from a telephone pole to a tree to bring Internet connectivity to remote areas. Credit: Facebook

Facebook has taken another step toward trying to bring connectivity to people around the world.

The social networking giant announced on Wednesday that it has designed and tested an open-source wireless access platform with the goal of improving connectivity to rural areas.

And Facebook's plan is that it will fit inside a shoebox.

Dubbed OpenCellular, it reportedly can offer connectivity to about 1,500 people who are sending and receiving voice calls and SMS messages. It provides basic 2G data connectivity.

The small-box design alows the new system to be attached to anything from a utility pole to a tree. It can also handle extreme weather, so it can serve people in a variety of severely cold or hot environments.

Kashif Ali, a Facebook engineer, wrote in a post that the company will be open sourcing the design.

"One of the reasons the expansion of cellular networks has stalled is that the ecosystem is constrained," Ali wrote. "With OpenCellular, we want to develop affordable new technology that can expand capacity and make it more cost-effective for operators to deploy networks in places where coverage is scarce. By open-sourcing the hardware and software designs for this technology, we expect costs to decrease for operators and to make it accessible to new participants."

According to Facebook, more than 4 billion people were not connected to the internet at the end of last year. The company also noted that 10% of the world's population was living outside the range of cellular connectivity.

It is in Facebook's best interests to open up connectivity.

The more people who are online, the more people are able to use Facebook and drive up its user base, as well as its ad revenue.

For several years now, Facebook has been working to bring more people around the world -- particularly in poor and rural areas -- onto the internet.

For its part, tech rival Google has been working to see if high-altitude balloons and drones can help drive connectivity. But Facebook has been looking at other technologies, as well as helping to launch Internet.org , a collaborative effort between the social media company and telecommunications providers to offer free or inexpensive Internet access.

Facebook is testing the OpenCellular device in its own labs on its California campus. Ali noted that the company already is working with OEM and other partners.

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