Facebook expands rural access efforts to more countries

Facebook is extending its rural access efforts to more countries, with trials planned for Nigeria and Zambia in partnership with MTN, and in collaboration with Africa Mobile Networks (AMN) and others.

It’s also working with AMN to test OpenCellular and understand how the rural mobile infrastructure model can connect more people throughout Africa, with trials in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a blog post by Aaron Bernstein, director of Connectivity Ecosystem Programs at Facebook.

Facebook is collaborating with Vodafone to advance its work with the OpenRAN solution, which enables rural connectivity by reducing costs and streamlining operations; that team plans to start in Turkey and expand to larger scale deloyments in rural and semi-rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa in the future.

The emphasis on rural areas is not new; TIP previously has done rural deployments in Latin America and Africa.

Through its work with local operators, they’ve been able to bring financially sustainable connectivity to more than 25,000 Peruvians in the Amazon jungle and the highlands of Peru. Telefonica also upgraded sites from 2G to 4G throughout rural Peru to deliver new or improved connectivity to an additional 250,000 people, according to Bernstein.

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The update on rural connectivity coincides with the third annual Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Summit being held in London this week.

In an interview prior to the summit, Bernstein told FierceWirelessTech that TIP is not just spectrum band agnostic—it’s not about licensed or unlicensed but the best solutions to meet the needs of a given operator—but it’s also geography-agnostic. That is, it’s interested in working in various geographies around the world where partners are interested in collaborating.

“We are absolutely committed to working with all partners that are excited about driving rural connectivity regardless of which geography they’re in,” he said.

The rural connectivity projects are complementary to the urban ones.

“We feel like connectivity challenges are everywhere, both in rural and in urban, and we’re committed to focusing on both,” he said.

As one might expect, rural terrain can present different challenges than urban areas. More than a third of Peru’s population lives in remote towns surrounded by mountains, rivers and jungles. Initial deployments demonstrated how using high-definition geospatial imagery with new planning tools can more accurately and more efficiently identify underconnected populations.

“We explored a mix of unlicensed and licensed microwave spectrum to provide high-speed backhaul to enable 3G/4G wireless service,” Bernstein explained in the blog. “Additionally, we tested options for OpenRAN solutions to provide lower power, lower cost, and easier-to-deploy radio access networks, and showed that when the right tech is combined with partners and local resources, connecting rural areas can be financially viable. We still have a lot left to learn, but together with our partners, we are jointly delivering new approaches to deploying rural connectivity and moving successful new technologies from trials to commercialization.”