In Business Model, Internet Access, Mobile, News

It is hard to say with certainty “who” Facebook will be competng with in 10 years. Some other app providers, certainly. But Facebook be competing with–or enabling–other rather surprising segments of the industry. Consider that Facebook already “competes” with carrier text messaging, through its WhatsApp operation. Facebook “competes” with server suppliers because it builds–and gives away the recipe–for those servers, plus creating “open source” data center architectures that others can use to reduce their own costs. 

Facebook already acts as an Internet service provider, to a lmited extent, in Africa. Eventually, it will take on other roles.

First off, Facebook is starting a new business unit to build “new hardware products to advance our mission of connecting the world,” says Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO.

Its 10-year roadmap clearly indicates that a variety of access platforms are planned, ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to satellites to lasers to “terrestrial solutions” and “telco infrastructure. So does Facebook’s mission of connecting the world extend beyond social applications and messaging? It is hard to come to any conclusion but that Facebook does see physical connections as part of its eventual portfoli0.

That does not necessarily mean Facebook everywhere and always–or even primarily–will operate as an Internet access provider. There may well be cases where that happens, but a range of roles–wholesale, backhaul, access platforms or networking gear–are conceivable.

Some will not be happy about that roadmap, but Facebook’s initiatives in the data center networking space already show some of the likely approaches the firm will take.

By commercializing open source servers and creating new data center architectures, Facebook is showing a way for cloud operations to be created and run at lower cost.

But that also means Facebook has become a “competitor,” if indirectly, to suppliers of server hardware, software and platforms. It might be more accurate to say Facebook allows data center operators to build their own servers, instead of buying them from commercial suppliers.

In other cases, Facebook is likely to become a significant supplier of Internet backhaul, wholesale services or perhaps even retail services in some cases, if partners do not come to the table with business models that rapidly and affordably supply Internet access in hard-to-reach or hard-to-serve areas, at retail prices all consumers–everywhere–can afford.

In Africa, Facebook supplies its own satellite access, because other providers do not do so at prices Facebook finds compelling. The unmanned aerial vehicle and fixed wireless networks Facebook also is developing provider other examples of the emphasis on lower-cost Internet access.

It is not clear that Facebook prefers to operate as a retail Internet access provider. It might well prefer to work with retail ISPs as a platform or backhaul provider. But the movement into connectivity” goes well beyond present roles as a major supplier of social networking and messaging platforms.

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