Facebook and partners collaborate to bring 5G wireless internet to California homes

At MWC 2019, the social network is demonstrating all the ways in which it's building out the underlying technology of the internet.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read
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Facebook is fleshing out the backbone of the internet.

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

At the world's biggest mobile show, the world's biggest social network has an important mission: To spread the word about its vision to connect the world.

Facebook is a familiar face at Mobile World Congress . It puts in an appearance at the Barcelona trade show every February. On Monday show the company shared a number of updates from its connectivity team, including a partnership through which it's bringing 5G wireless internet to Alameda, California.

US-based company Common Networks is delivering ultra high-speed gigabit internet service to residential customers using Facebook's technology, as a replacement for standard home broadband. It's doing this at lower costs and faster speeds than fiber, Dan Rabinovitsj, VP of Connectivity for Facebook said in a blog post, and crucially, it's available now.

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Common Networks launched in 2017 and already provides fixed wireless access to residences around the world, but in collaboration with Facebook, it's hoping to accelerate the number of people who can access gigabit internet at home. It's doing this by adopting Facebook's Terragraph technology, which uses high-frequency radio waves to speed up networks where populations are dense.

"With Terragraph, we're helping operators deploy high-speed wireless connectivity efficiently, ultimately enabling more people to use the internet to connect with friends and family, learn and access economic opportunities," said Rabinovitsj.

It said in a press release Common Networks said that it also hopes to extend the new service out to the wider San Francisco Bay area soon.

Connecting the wider world

The partnership with Common Networks was just one of several announcements Facebook made on Monday at MWC. It also unveiled plans to improve rural connectivity, enable new carrier models and invest in fiber. 

As with many of Facebook's previous internet connectivity projects, the emphasis is on the emerging economies. While much of the mobile industry focuses on 5G, establishing stable, affordable and high-quality internet access remains a challenge in many regions. 

"The latest edition of our Inclusive Internet Index found that progress on closing the digital divide between low-income countries and the rest of the world stalled in 2018," said Rabinovitsj. "Preventing an even greater digital divide and closing the remaining gaps in internet inclusion will require more collaboration."

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After a number of missteps in the past with its controversial Free Basics program, Facebook has now switched focus to close working partnerships with networks, infrastructure providers and local businesses all over the world. In 2016 it announced the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), an engineering project that involves network companies such as Nokia and Ericsson. Global telecoms providers including Orange and Telefonica are also involved, collaborating on solutions for major connectivity challenges.

In August, Facebook collected its various initiatives to bring more people online under a new banner, Facebook Connectivity, and hired Rabinovitsj as vice president. TIP continues to be a central part of this vision as it works toward developing new millimeter-wave, optical, and radio access technologies.

"It's encouraging to see the industry expand its efforts to extend global connectivity, but we know that together we have a lot more work to do," Rabinovitsj said.