The mission of Facebook Connectivity, through research and development of solutions, programs and products, as well as collaboration with a network of partners, is to connect as many people as possible to the Internet worldwide.
Facebook Connectivity has been operating since 2013 and in these years has allowed over 300 million people to connect to the Internet faster, underlines the company. Including those who have benefited from other benefits, such as improvements to network performance based on the technological innovations introduced.
The key to everything is in innovative technologies. And it is with technological innovations across the board that Facebook Connectivity is giving a further and new impetus to the effort to overcome digital divide.
In order to bring a quality connection to the many people around the world who are still deprived of it.
Facebook Connectivity innovation to achieve these goals is developed through three key initiatives: submarine cables, reduce the cost of fiber implementation and solve the problem of the last mile.
Submarine cables, primary infrastructure
Optical fibre cables are the ideal solution for providing a cheap and high-speed Internet connection, since they support bandwidth more than a thousand times higher than other communication technologies.
Facebook Connectivity is continuing to invest to improve submarine fiber optic cables and extend their reach, so as to offer a quality connection to more people.
Until recently, transoceanic submarine cables were composed of only two to eight pairs of fibres.
Thanks to the collaboration with various operators in the sector, Facebook is now able to announce the first system of submarine cable between Europe and the United States equipped with 24 pairs of fibres.
This system has a capacity of half a petabit per second, equal to half a million gigabits. To put it into perspective, this is a capacity 200 times higher than the transatlantic cables built in the early 2000s.
This new system is based on the latest Facebook Connectivity news about 2Africa Pearls, the submarine cable connecting Africa, Asia and Europe, and makes the 2Africa cable system the longest in the world, able to guarantee connectivity up to three billion
Among the innovations introduced by Facebook Connectivity: for some parts of the 2Africa project a new system of aluminium conductors will be used to replace the traditional copper conductors and reduce the costs of construction of cables of this capacity.
Another important improvement is the power supply of submarine cables. Currently, the capacity of these cables is limited by the amount of electricity supplied by the mainland to a series of repeaters positioned along the cable at intervals of about 80 km.
For a transatlantic connection between Europe and the United States of America of more than 7000 km, it is a very long power cable, extremely complex to manage.
To overcome this challenge, Facebook Connectivity engineers are designing buoys that can supply power to repeaters directly from the ocean. The team is also looking for more sustainable ways to achieve this result, with a combination of wave energy converters and solar panels.
This unique solution Featured Facebook Connectivity • will allow you to perfect the technology used, from 1⁄2 petabit to
Innovation also concerns how and where to place cables. For example, Atlantis is a predictive modeling tool that allows you to predict which routes of submarine cables are able to ensure greater network availability during unforeseen events.
A robot to install the fiber
Submarine cables are part of the backbones of the global Internet network, but once they have reached the mainland, it is necessary to provide bandwidth to communities. However, the current methods of fibre installation are laborious and costly.
Consequently, the implementation has become a bottleneck for further extension of the fibre and for achieving the type of diffusion necessary to ensure unlimited access to the Internet for everyone, regardless of income.
Although the cost per metre of individual fibre wires is limited, the cost of installing the fibre varies from tens to hundreds of dollars per metre. Facebook Connectivity has therefore set to work to find a way to reduce these costs.
The idea of exploiting medium voltage power lines, the wires that are seen on light poles in many parts of the world, was born. However, it was necessary to find a way to add fiber to these lines.
This is how Bombyx was born, a robot for the aerial installation of fiber that makes its diffusion faster and cheaper.
With a name derived from the scientific definition of the silkworm, Bombyx is Facebook’s attempt to reduce the cost of the terrestrial installation of the fiber by combining innovations in the field of robotics with the design of optical fiber cables. All this, in order to expand the earth’s fibre network avoiding the expenses related to the excavations necessary to lay the cables underground.
Since the start of the project, Facebook has reduced the weight of the robot by 4.5 kg and decreased from 17 to 4 minutes the time needed to Bombyx to travel a power line. It also improved the stabilisation mechanism to ensure that the robot remains upright on the line.
The team is also working to allow the robot to switch from semi-autonomous operation to complete autonomy when it has to overcome an obstacle. With the current semi-autonomous system, operators must monitor and direct robot movements when this crosses borders.
If it were completely autonomous, technicians could simply load the robot on the line and let this trace a path to move freely around obstacles.
The development of Bombyx required the solution of some important problems in the design of optical fiber cables. For example, the weight of the cable and the robot itself, or the very high temperatures that reach the electrical cables.
To solve these design problems, Facebook first used the Kevlar interweaving to strengthen the cable without affecting size and flexibility. He then addressed the problem of size and weight by reducing the number of fibres from 96 to 24, as, thanks to the latest technologies, a single fibre cable can connect up to 1000 houses.
Finally, Facebook has collaborated with the most well-known suppliers of materials to develop a sheath that allows the fibre to withstand the high temperatures that can be reached on the power lines and the vaulted arches of the high voltage.
The next step was to design a robot that could move along the power lines and overcome obstacles. Bombyx uses advanced motion techniques to maintain balance or flip when it encounters an obstacle during the fiber winding around the power lines.
Each robot Featured Facebook • will be Although it is still early to assess the potential impact, he warned the company, engineers are optimistic.
Bombyx has also attracted interest from public service companies that increasingly need fibre bandwidth to modernise their network operations and which are required to contribute to the elimination of digital divide.
Terragraph, the connection moves into the air
After crossing the ocean and increasing the fibre supplied to the communities, there is still to be covered the final section to bring the connection to the homes and farms. The bulk of the work would seem done, and instead this last step is one of the most difficult problems to solve, Facebook emphasizes.
To face this challenge, Facebook Connectivity has developed a technology called Terragraph that covers the last kilometer in over-the-air mode. This allows buildings to have wireless fibre speed connections at a much lower cost than traditional approaches.
Terragraph has already provided Internet access to more than 6500 homes in Anchorage, Alaska, and its installation in Perth, Australia has begun.
This solution uses the transmitters present in road and roof systems to create a distributed network that provides reliable and high-speed connectivity to homes and businesses. Terragraph is faster to install than underground fiber because it is based on existing fiber points and increases wireless capacity through nodes mounted on road systems such as street lights and traffic lights.
Terragraph nodes form a multi-node structure, creating a resilient network that can redirect the signal, if necessary, to ensure that housing and businesses are able to maintain their capacity even in the presence of obstacles, such as scaffolding.
This technology was born in 2015 and
Terragraph is licensed to OEMs for free and five partners have already announced the availability of hardware products compatible with this solution. To date, Facebook has announced, these OEMs have sent more than 30,000 Terragraph units to over 100 service providers and system integrators worldwide.
The next steps
Facebook has expressed its intention to continue to refine all its connectivity technologies. In the near future, tests of floating buoys that will feed submarine cables in the middle of the ocean will start.
On land, Bombyx’s public service rehearsals will soon begin. Facebook will also continue to work with OEMs to adapt Terragraph to many other markets around the world.
After achieving the goal of providing a reliable high-speed Internet network to more than 300 million people, Facebook wants to go further.
Connecting the next billion people requires many more initiatives and innovative solutions will be needed to help the sector eliminate digital divide.