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

Sprint has signed up to join Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP), making it the first major U.S. wireless operator to become a member of the project.

Facebook launched TIP back in 2016, with the goal of bringing connectivity to unserved and underserved markets through the development of software-powered telecom infrastructure. The project has seen widespread traction among telecom players in the past two years, and counts 500 companies in its membership. But U.S. mobile operators have been slow to warm to the initiative.

Sprint joins Telenor and China Unicom as TIP’s newest members, which was part of a larger announcement for TIP at Mobile World Congress. 

To be clear, a number of major international operators are members of the organization, including Vodafone and Orange. Further, Germany's Deutsche Telekom is a member, though its T-Mobile brand is not listed as a member. Deutsche Telekom is the parent company of T-Mobile in the United States.

RELATED: Facebook gaining operator traction with TIP, just not U.S. operators so much

Aside from the new members, TIP also announced the formation of three new working groups inside the organization. Vodafone will lead the new Crowd Cell group, focused on extending the range of existing networks with relay architecture. Vodafone will also co-chair with Facebook a new Disaggregated Cell Site Gateways subgroup of TIP’s Open Optical and Packet Transport group. The group will focus on developing new cell site gateway devices. Lastly, Telefonica and Facebook will lead the Power and Connectivity group, which will “collaborate on strategic opportunities at the nexus of power and connectivity,” according to a release.

TIP has also announced a slew of new projects from its members. Vodacom will be conducting a new trial of TIP’s OpenCellular initiative in Africa aimed at developing cost-effective and open source base station solutions in rural areas.

New member Telenor announced two new trials: it is conducting an OpenCellular trial in Pakistan, and will conduct a trial in Kuala Lumpur as part of TIP’s goals to accelerate the development of mmWave solutions capable of delivering gigabit speeds.

Nokia and Arris-owned Ruckus Networks will also be joining the mmWave group, while Deutsche Telekom will launch a Terregraph field trial in Budapest through its subsidiary Magyar Telekom.

BT, Airtel and CableLabs have announced new lab trials for TIP’s virtualized RAN fronthaul group, while Vodafone is announcing a trial for TIP’s OpenRAN group, which is focused on developing a macro cellular base station with software-defined radios and is hardware agnostic.

RELATED: Vodafone, Intel co-chair new OpenRAN project group for TIP

Facebook, meanwhile, has announced it will release the results of TIP’s artificial intelligence and applied machine learning (AI/ML) in creating machine learning-assisted anomaly detection for mmWave mesh networks.

At Mobile World Congress, TIP also announced some $123 million in venture capital funding available to startups that are participating in the TIP Ecosystem Acceleration Center in Germany and a new TIP community lab, which will be located new BT’s Adastral Park campus in the U.K.