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4 Takeaways from Facebook’s Foray into Telecom

By: Blair Felter on May 22, 2017

The telecom industry is welcoming a new member to its ranks, whether it “likes” it or not: Facebook.

It started as an off-the-cuff idea in a break room conversation. According to a recent Business Insider article, a group of Facebook engineers were sitting around chatting when one of them proposed the seemingly-crazy idea of building their own telecommunication system. It sounded farfetched at the time, but made it into hackathon, and six months later was revealed to the public as a product called Voyager.

This is no little side project. Business Insider reports, “Voyager has already been tested by Facebook and the European telecom company Telia over Telia's thousand-kilometer-telecom network. Plus, the German telecom equipment maker ADVA Optical Networking is manufacturing the device and as of a few weeks ago had nine customers trying it out for their telecom needs, a mix of big telecom companies and enterprises, it said. And the Paris-based telecom provider Orange is also testing the device, working with Equinix and the African telecom company MTN.”

What does this mean for the telecom industry? Let’s break it down.

  • The telecom hardware industry is on notice. The big guys (Huawei, Ericsson, Cisco, Juniper, etc.) no longer hold a monopoly on building these systems. If Facebook can create a white-box product, other companies can too – and they will.
  • Facebook’s Telecom Infrastructure Project is growing up. Facebook launched its Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP) consortium as an offshoot of its Open Compute Project (OCP) in February 2016. The premise behind both is “open source hardware,” that as Facebook builds its own equipment, they share the designs with the tech community. The Open Compute Project has already made waves in the data center industry, and with the growth of Voyager and interest of multiple industry bigshots, TIP will be just as influential.
  • Innovation has arrived. Innovation was challenging when telco operators had to rely on incumbent vendors, but OCP and TIP are changing that fast. Between the organizations’ resources and the thought leaders that it inspires, innovation is everywhere, from shifting models from hardware to software to connecting developing countries more efficiently and effectively.
  • Facebook may be playing for keeps. Now that Facebook is building hardware and laying its own cable, what’s to stop it from competing with telecoms outright? Amazon did it with AWS; Google did it with Fiber. Facebook has the means and the money – we wouldn’t be surprised if they entered the market.

For now, it’s unclear how Facebook’s Voyager and the TIP community will shape the telecom industry. But the company, its ideas and its white-box system are certainly acting as a catalyst of change, whatever shape it takes. Whether the home of your News Feed becomes your Internet provider or not, transformation and innovation are coming to telecommunications, and for consumers, that’s definitely something to “like.”

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