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Needing faster wireless, Facebook wants to boost infrastructure

Facebook executives have long made it clear that they want everyone on the planet to use their social network. If they have to spend time and money to accelerate wireless performance to help make that happen, they will.

As of this week, they have.

On Sunday, Facebook took the wraps off its Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which is tasked with accelerating the development of telecommunications networking hardware.

Taking a page from its earlier Open Compute Project effort for data centers, Facebook is joining forces with Intel, Nokia and several telecommunications companies, including Germany's Deutsche Telekom, to share designs and technological advances for open source hardware and software.

Facebook, Intel and Nokia will work on the new designs. The telecoms will use the technology based on those designs.

"Every day, more people and more devices around the world are coming online, and it's becoming easier to share data-intensive experiences like video and virtual reality," wrote Jay Parikh, Facebook's global head of engineering and infrastructure, in a blog post . "Scaling traditional telecom infrastructure to meet this global data challenge is not moving as fast as people need it to. We know there isn't a single solution for this, and no one company can tackle the problem alone."

Is Facebook diving into the challenge of designing wireless hardware and software? It might seem like a far cry from social networking, but Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said the move makes sense.

"Both Facebook and Google know that the more content people pursue and consume across the web, the more people will be using their respective services," Olds said. "So if Facebook believes that wireless technology isn't advancing quickly enough, it makes sense for them to become more directly involved in its evolution."

It makes even more sense for Facebook to create a team to tackle wireless technology after it created another team with the Open Compute Project about five years ago to build better data centers.

This week's move is a slight change in direction but the same strategy – to pull together forces in advanced technology that eventually will help the business.

"Facebook is at the forefront of reinventing the way we think about industry after industry," said Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. "I expect Facebook to continue to reinvent itself, year after year. They don't simply find a new market opportunity and stick there. They are a constantly moving target."

Speeding up advances in wireless technology also should help Facebook with its efforts in virtual reality.

"Facebook is one of the pioneers in virtual reality, which, when it gets going, will take a huge amount of compute and network bandwidth to bring to life," Olds said. "The more bandwidth customers have at their disposal, the better their virtual reality experience will be. If Facebook can become the first provider to give customers an ultra realistic virtual reality immersion, then the world will beat a path to their door."

Speaking Sunday at a Samsung event in Barcelona before the start of Mobile World Congress, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg called virtual reality "the next platform."

Zuckerberg said virtual reality is moving beyond gaming and into areas where friends can gather, where a child's first steps might be recorded in 360-degree VR, and eventually, to meetings in the enterprise.

Olds said it's hard to find a downside for Facebook to take on wireless service when it could help the company gain a larger user base and propel virtual reality.

"It's hard to see how it could hurt them, other than losing some money if it goes south," he added.

IDG Insider

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