Editor’s Corner—Facebook-led TIP proves 60 GHz isn’t just for backhaul anymore

Monica Alleven Editor's Corner

BARCELONA, Spain—The Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project (TIP) used Mobile World Congress 2018 to showcase all the progress it’s made—and there’s a lot to talk about—but one effort didn’t quite come off as hoped in order to make it in time for MWC.

Deutsche Telekom aimed to announce that it had launched a 60 GHz trial in Hungary, but there was just one problem. It had to do with a not-so-little thing known as electricity. Or really, the lack thereof. The plan is to use 60 GHz to deliver fiberlike broadband to the home, but the lack of electricity where they needed it meant a no-go for MWC, although they were still able to announce that a field trial is in the works.  

Work is ongoing to rectify the electrical problem, and DT’s Axel Clauberg said the launch near Budapest should be underway in a matter of weeks. Besides being a VP at DT, Clauberg serves as chairman of the TIP board, and he expects the work they undertake in Hungary, via its subsidiary Magyar Telekom, will contribute to the overall understanding of how fixed wireless works at 60 GHz and feeds into the larger ecosystem.

To be sure, it’s an ecosystem that’s growing. Facebook also announced this week that Telenor will be doing a trial in Kuala Lumpur, and Nokia and Ruckus Networks, an Arris company, are joining the TIP mmWave group. In addition, Facebook collaborated with Intel and Radwin to deliver a reference design for Terragraph-certified 60 GHz solutions based on the Intel architecture.

All of these developments show the ecosystem for 60 GHz Terragraph is moving full steam ahead, and not even the oxygen absorption issues associated with 60 GHz are holding it back. 

RELATED: Facebook, Deutsche Telekom double down on millimeter wave tech at 60 GHz

Facebook has already built a sizable 60 GHz network in San Jose, California, where Yael Maguire, VP of connectivity at Facebook, said it’s gratifying to be able to download data while walking around the town and know it just works. In fact, Facebook has been developing and evaluating the technology in the U.S. for a while now and the initial validation is now complete, he told FierceWirelessTech on the sidelines of MWC18. That wasn’t a clear-cut conclusion even a few short months ago when we met at Mobile World Congress Americas in San Francisco.

“At this point, I think we feel very confident, oxygen is not an issue,” Maguire said. “As long as you’re willing to accept that these nodes have to be a certain distance apart, fantastic. What we do spend more time being concerned about are things like snow accumulation on the external boxes and foliage and things like that, and that’s why we set up such a large network and why we’re really excited about DT setting up their own community labs in Berlin and hopefully other places in the world over time.”

The plan is to collect a lot of data to learn about the effects on 60 GHz and establish some guidelines for how it’s deployed here, there and everywhere. Which sounds to me like a pretty brash plan for a spectrum band that was more or less best known for microwave backhaul not that many years ago, if memory serves.

But it shows what can be done—not too dissimilar to how people thought spectrum used for Wi-Fi was part of the “garbage” bands or the millimeter bands like 28 and 39 GHz were part of a wasteland left by the likes of Winstar, Teligent or NextLink that crashed and burned so many years ago. Lucky for us, things have changed dramatically.

Today, the big goal for DT is to have a deployable technology at 60 GHz, and Clauberg said the TIP millimeter wave group in San Francisco has made tremendous progress. Remember, TIP made its official splash just about two years ago, at Mobile World Congress in 2016. TIP was launched as an engineering-focused initiative geared toward reimagining the traditional approach to building and deploying telecom network infrastructure. It was also lauded as part of an effort to "accelerate" 5G network designs.

RELATED: Sprint becomes first major U.S. wireless operator to join Facebook’s TIP

Flash-forward to this year, and it’s clear that European operators at MWC18 are feeling the ARPU pinch. That was evident in keynotes and on the show floor, and Clauberg brought it up as well.

“We as service providers are facing this challenge, exponential traffic growth, our production costs are increasing,” he said. “At the same time, unfortunately ARPU is either flat or shrinking. It’s not a good situation to be in, so we’re looking for more exponential innovation and the partnership here with Facebook, especially on the millimeter wave, is, for us, extremely interesting because in a couple of our countries we have actually a challenge in the urban areas with fiber density.”

To deploy fiber to each household, it’s extremely expensive, “so we’re looking at fixed wireless solutions as one component of our delivery to our customers” while serving customers with gigabit speeds, Clauberg explained. “We call that virtual fiber now, indicating that it’s fiberlike performance,” but it’s using the 60 GHz unlicensed millimeter wave spectrum.

This group is also getting to a point at which it’s important to get broader exposure, and the TIP community lab in Berlin is a good place for people to get hands-on experience with the technology. Nokia also announced this week that it will combine its worldwide delivery capabilities and wireless passive optical network with Facebook's Terragraph technology to launch global gigabit broadband trials in 2018 with select customers.

For the validation piece of the 60 GHz puzzle, Facebook engineers in the U.S. developed the equipment themselves to see if it would work—but they’re not building equipment to use in any commercial fashion. Neither Facebook nor DT wants to do that. But the validation means they can move on to these field trials like the one DT is doing near Budapest. DT also has the smaller facility in Berlin, where it’s making the technology available for others to get a chance to see how it looks and feels.   

It’s worth noting that while it is open—as is the way of standards—this is not an open sourced thing. Maguire said they’re making it available under reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms, also known as fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms, but “we’re not trying to be an OEM or anything like that. We’re trying to seed technology that can create an ecosystem.”  

“One of the key things for us is making sure that this is interoperable,” he added. “We want it to be similar to what happens on the 3GPP side on compatibility but also on the Wi-Fi side where you can take different access points and different clients and mix and match those and the whole system works.”

They’re also making strides within the IEEE standards community. In draft form for IEEE 802.11ay is a reference implementation that’s based on the work they’ve been doing. All the work on the low-level interfaces at the Mac and physical layer are now in draft form in the standards process. “We’re really excited about that,” Maguire said.

Of course, it’s still early stages for 60 GHz in its current iteration and it has yet to become a full-blown commercial service. But if things continue at the current pace, there’s no guessing what they’ll be talking about at next year’s MWC. — Monica | @fiercewrlsstech | @malleven33