As Meta moves away from connectivity, what does that mean for OpenWiFi?

A little over two weeks ago, I was part of a group of about Meta employees showcasing our latest and greatest work at the Telecom Infra Project Fyuz summit. For the first time in a long time, a bunch of us were together to build enthusiasm and draw support from companies and carriers globally for the work that we’ve been doing to help disaggregate networks and bring about a dramatic shift in technology, allowing more people to access quality Internet connectivity than ever before.

Now, a few short weeks later, almost that whole team has been disassembled

As the layoff rumors turned real, we didn’t know if we were going to be affected or not, or how deep. Engineers, program managers, testing and support staff, hardware and software experts are now gone and the connectivity program is dust in the wind. There are some incredible individuals that were left behind to assemble the pieces and advance some of the project, however it is a shadow of the team – it honestly seems like 70-80% of our program is gone. 

As I’m sure some of you read, talked to me about or maybe even had the chance to experience, I was a bit vocal about the prospects of OpenWiFi. After dedicating every effort of my job to OpenWiFi for the last eight months, I can’t help but wonder what this means for our project? Will Meta continue to support it? Will the community take it under its wing and help it grow? What resources will be available and who will provide them?

What now?

We showcased a number of solutions from ecosystem partners like NetExperience, Edgecore, Wavespot, and partnerships like Hamina and others at Fyuz. We hung access points from multiple hardware manufacturers. We showed off 2 network management and monitoring systems. All of that took coordination and tons of relationship building. On the back-end, the testing and verification of code, the RF chambers to verify conformity to standards, the support for the community to invigorate and drive demand .. it’s a lot. If OpenWiFi is left for TIP to maintain, they would need to provide these services to ensure any type of longevity of this program. This is TIPs project group and program. Are they up to the task?

In the words of one of the vendor partners that was at Fyuz two weeks ago, “we feel like second rate citizens.” I’m not even sure that the Telecom Infra Project knows who we are, even though we’ve won numerous awards and helped stack the trophy case for them. As ORAN and the carrier-focused innovations took the limelight at the event, OpenWiFi was jumping up and down waving our arms trying to get some attention (spoiler: it *totally* worked!) The DNA for TIP is a very carrier focused group, with its leadership and boards coming from the carrier world, so it takes no stretch of the imagination on why TIP wouldn’t be over the moon about a Wi-Fi innovation. 

Regardless of impact of the project, It’s never fun to see something that you’ve dedicated a lot of time and soul to, to end up in the chopping block. However, the silver lining may be that this is an open source project that’s meant to be carried forward by the community.

So, who in the tech community is willing to take OpenWiFi forward? 

Sure, there are a number of hardware and vendor manufactures that want to make money off of this project, but are they willing to put up any of the costs that have been taken care of by Meta for the last few years? Maybe a chip manufacturer?

It’s not just about having the resources available, it’s making a decision to use those resources to help move OpenWiFi forward. As we’ve seen the growth of access points jump up over 1500% year over year, we know that there’s definitely a demand for it. It’s easy to make a decision to take advantage of a thriving market, especially when someone else is picking up the tab and providing all of the technical resources. 

If an organization decides that they’d like to be the driving force behind OpenWiFi for TIP like Meta has been doing, I’m sure it would have numerous benefits not just for each of the individual companies, but for the entire wireless technology industry. I’m just not convinced that TIP is the organization to do it on their own, yet.

Whoever is at the helm at TIP is likely to be someone from the “old school” carrier world, and that is still a group that has traditionally looked down upon the unlicensed wireless interlopers. I wonder how anyone in the RAN space would feel having OpenWiFi dumped on their doorstep? I just don’t feel like TIP’s heart is in it for OpenWiFi. So who, then? That’s the question. 

Here’s the problem with all of this for me:

  I truly believe in the mission of OpenWiFi. I believe that disaggregated Wi-Fi networks pose an incredible value proposition to a number of different groups. I think OpenWiFi lends itself to organizations like carriers, operators and network service providers that can blow their margins through the roof while offering an incredible value in service. I think traditional small businesses that are customer facing can benefit from the low-cost and high quality services it offers, enabling more people to get better access to higher quality connectivity. 

I think that the OpenWiFi model offers a ton of hope, and I think that the partners who can see this are ready to help move it forward. I just don’t know if they have the the desire or the resources (or both!) to advance it. It was one thing when the incredible team at Meta had a dedicated group to it, but can it survive without that lifeline? 

For me, that was the issue with the dissolution of Meta Connectivity. It’s not about having a job or advancing a career, it’s about losing a project that so many of us committed some part of our soul to as a way to use our skills to change the industry and the world we live in. If we all truly didn’t believe in it, it wouldn’t have been authentic. I believe in this, we believed in this.

I just hope that there is some path forward for OpenWiFi that maintains the spirit of what it was trying to do and continues to push its progress forward so that all of the heart and soul that was poured into it doesn’t get taken for granted and the impact can still make a divot in our industry and world. 

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