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Facebook Communications Technology Includes Broadband Wireless, Millimeter Wave and More

April 24, 2017 By Steve Senne in

Facebook is taking a building block approach as it participates in numerous and varied initiatives to boost Internet connectivity, service quality and affordability in urban, suburban and rural areas across the globe, Yael Maguire highlights on the Facebook Code blog. Facebook communications technology is focused on several different areas, including broadband wireless, millimeter wave and even aircraft technology.

Maguire singles out Facebook’s participation in the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) as an example. A public-private sector industry collaboration, TIP partners intend to overcome the challenges associated with providing connectivity in one community as a means of demonstrating a model that can be replicated in communities worldwide. 

Facebook is also developing next-generation networking technologies that hold out the promise of reducing Internet service costs while improving their overall quality and performance. It has adopted a building block approach in doing so, designing prospective solutions for specific use cases rather than attempting to develop a “one size fits all” solution, he explains.

Facebook Communications Technology

The blog post notes that Facebook has used its Terragraph multi-node broadband wireless network technology to extend fiber network connectivity faster and at lower cost in comparison with expanding fiber network footprints.  

The concept may sound simple, but it’s never been done at city-wide scale, Maguire points out. Facebook has worked with the city of San Jose, California to launch a first-of-its-kind wireless broadband network using its Terragraph technology to test system capabilities in the city’s downtown corridor.

The project team worked with Facebook’s computer vision team to evaluate test images and identify where best to install millimeter wave radio nodes, including where the best “lines of sight” existed.

The team was well aware of the challenges involved with transporting wireless data using 60GHz millimeter wave spectrum. Signal strength, or rather the lack thereof, is a major one. Something as small as a leaf can block 60GHz radio signals, Maguire noted. That’s a weakness other industry players have pointed out as momentum to develop and test next-gen 5G wireless standards and technology has increased.  

To overcome this challenge Facebook created software that routes signals around obstructions in a split second so that end users never notice a lapse in connectivity. Failover rate has been reduced to the degree it’s not noticeable by human senses, according to Maguire.

Turning to more remote and rural areas, Facebook is developing millimeter wave and aircraft technology that can beam signals across the stratosphere, which is more economical than installing fiber optics when traversing expanses of land, according to Facebook.

Aquila, Facebook’s solar powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is an example. The drone underwent its first test flight last year and will be undergoing further testing this year.

Facebook upgraded its millimeter wave technology in preparation. The Facebook project team set a millimeter wave record last year while testing a terrestrial point-to-point link in Southern California, transporting data at a rate of nearly 20 Gbps over 13 kilometers (some 8.06 mi).

They followed that up by setting three new records in wireless data transfer: transporting wireless data point-to-point at 36 Gbps over the same distance and at 80 Gbps between those same points using Facebook’s optical cross-link technology.

Facebook also used the same technology to transport data at 16 Gbps simultaneously in each direction from ground level to a Cessna airplane circling at a distance of more than seven kilometers, Maguire elaborates.

The record setting ground-to-air connection was the first real-life test of how Facebook will use this technology, which is applicable across a number of Facebook’s connectivity solutions. For example, it could be used for a terrestrial backhaul network capable of supporting access solutions, such as OpenCellular, or as a reliable back-up to free-space optical solutions, such as the laser communications gimbal and optical detector used to overcome problems of transporting wireless data when it’s cloudy or there’s fog.

Ultimately, Maguire adds, the point-to-point MMW radio link is also expected to serve as the connection between a ground station and Aquila.