Facebook Built New Software For Cities To Get Internet

A few weeks ago Facebook revealed its vision for the future of connected cities: a lattice of millimeter wave transmitters, working together to blanket dense urban populations with high speed internet. The project is called Terragraph, and it's a part of the company's larger ambition to connect the world by open sourcing technologies which in turn creates more users for itself.

Facebook is now releasing the software component of this strategy, called Open/R. Software engineers call Open/R an extensible distributed network application platform, but we can think of it as software that keeps a bunch of high-powered routers working together.

The network created by the Terragraph units is like a system of digital roads. Information wirelessly travels through each unit to the next, until it eventually reaches its destination—either the output to the rest of the internet, or the user's device. Omar Maldonado, director of software engineering on Facebook's Networking team, says that current networking software isn't smart enough to handle high levels of traffic on so many routers, over so much physical space. If there are too many people using the network in one location and the Terragraph units there are overburdened, other units will know to bypass that unit.

“Imagine [Google Maps] just found the quickest route to your destination, but they didn’t take into account live traffic conditions, or dynamic construction work,” says Omar Maldonado, director of software engineering on Facebook's Networking team. “All that information needs to be disseminated throughout the network.”

The network can also be affected by things like foliage or weather, especially because the technology is predicated on millimeter waves (that don't play nice with rain and bad weather). These potential physical impediments to the network would be calculated, and the data would be relayed on the path of least resistance.

Maldonado says that this technology has been internally scaled to handle thousands of Terragraph units.