Vodafone and Facebook to work with TIP on cutting cost of African rural coverage

Vodafone is to work with Facebook in a plan to use open-source mobile platform that they hope will reduce the cost of connectivity in remote areas.

The two companies are to work together in the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and will focus on projects in Africa, they said.

Meanwhile Vodafone’s head of network strategy is joining the board of the TIP and will launch a new network project group within the organisation.

The new group is aimed at reducing the costs associated with building mobile networks and enabling easier market entry for smaller vendors, said Vodafone.

Santiago Tenorio Sanz, the group’s head of networks strategy and architecture, is joining the TIP board, which now has seven members, from BT, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Intel, Nokia and Telefónica, as well as Vodafone.

TIP was founded in early 2016 as an engineering-focused initiative driven by operators, suppliers, developers, integrators and start-ups to disaggregate the traditional networks deployment approach with the aim of fostering innovation and driving down costs to facilitate increased connectivity in rural and isolated communities.

Tenorio said: “Greater engagement in TIP will help us to implement faster the open and flexible network infrastructure that enables the industry as a whole to reduce the cost of providing telecoms services to our customers.”

The new group will be officially called the open RAN [radio access network] GPP [general purpose processor] optimisation and SW (software) group, and it will be co-chaired by Vodafone and Intel.

Vodafone said it is already contributing to the development of a number of other TIP project groups, all focused on lowering the cost and accelerating innovation in the areas of mobile network radio and backhaul.

The African project, due to start in 2018, is to look at ways to deliver low cost rural coverage in Africa. These will be based on OpenCellular, an open source software-defined mobile access platform created by Facebook that aims to improve connectivity in remote areas of the world.

The platform can be deployed to support a range of communication needs, from 2G to 4G, said Vodafone. The companies will initially undertake lab testing of OpenCellular in South Africa before identifying locations within other countries in Africa to test the technology.

Tenorio added: “The work with Facebook on OpenCellular will build on pilots of open radio access networks that Vodafone has previously done in India as part of our commitment to extend the benefits of mobile network coverage to communities living in the remotest parts of the world.”

Last month TIP, BT and Facebook announced that three small and medium-sized companies would work with the UK-based Telecom Infra Project Ecosystem Acceleration Centre, gaining access to a pool of £125 million in venture capital.