Facebook, which recently teamed up with the likes of Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek, Opera and others to launch the Internet.org initiative a few weeks ago, has just published a white paper that outlines its master plan to wire up the rest of the world to the web.
For those unfamiliar with Internet.org, the initiative was launched last August 20 with a website that claims the group is dedicated to helping the approximately two thirds of the world’s population – around five billion people – living without internet access to get online. It’s not an entirely charitable cause, as Facebook would only benefit from getting an extra five billion souls onboard its sharing and liking train, while its friends would obviously enjoy selling all of that extra hardware and software that’ll be needed to make it happen. Even so, while Internet.org is, for all intents and purposes, an advertising platform for these companies, it’s not like anyone else is going to front up the money to connect all of the desert nomads and jungle dwellers in the world, so perhaps any criticism is unfair.
Regardless of their intentions, the ‘group’ most definitely has a plan to make it happen. The whitepaper, which can be downloaded here as a PDF, explains that the goal of Internet.org is to give everyone in the world a chance to access the internet in the coming years, but points out that “the current global cost of delivering data is on the order of 100 times too expensive for this to be economically feasible”.
To remedy this, Facebook and its friends say that the answer is to try and cut the “underlying costs of delivering data”, and to use less data as well, by making “more efficient apps”.
Making Data Cheaper?
Facebook says that the first challenge can be met if more internet companies make the effort to build hi-tech, energy efficient data centers like its own, which means building them in cooler climates where outside air can be used for cooling, and adopting projects like the Group Hug modular servers plan, plus the tenets of its Open Compute project.
Aside from this, the whitepaper also recommends that networks are used more wisely in future. It cites the example of Facebook, which often uses the WebP image format whenever possible, as this produces images that take up less storage space than other formats, hence the use less bandwidth. The promotion of WebP and other bandwidth-friendly formats is just one way that internet companies can hope to improve web services and lower data costs.
There are plenty of issues that the paper ignores, such as the inefficiency of current dominant networking protocols. However, it puts a lot of emphasis on how Facebook tries to build more efficient client applications on platforms like Android.
Some of the descriptions are pretty interesting, well thought-out ideas, such as this one that explains how Facebook is attempting to increase battery life in devices:
“The high cost of waking a phone’s radio to fetch data comes from network inactivity timers on the device. These timers keep the radio in high energy state for fixed period of time regardless of the size of data packets to be transferred. Also, these timers vary by network operators. Thus, the same phone can have very different impact on battery performance across different network operators. Consequently, it is critical to wake the radio as seldom as possible and send as much network traffic each time as possible, while maintaining the feeling of freshness and recency in the UI. One way we’ve tackled this is by pre-fetching multiple images at a time that your friends have posted instead of waking up the radio separately for each image fetch.”
The latter sections of the whitepaper are devoted to Qualcomm’s and Ericsson’s efforts to build more efficient networking technologies that underly the wireless internet. For its part, Qualcomm puts its efforts into the context of a 1000x Challenge – that is, the challenge of building a worldwide network that has sufficient capacity to meet demand 1,000 times greater than today.
Internet.org’s whitepaper reads a bit like an advertisement for the companies concerned at times, but the overall message is clear enough – if everyone can work together, it really is possible to scale this internet thing and bring it to the five billion-plus deserving souls who’re yet to see what its all about.