Facebook to Telcos: Forget Hardware Empires—Let’s All Share

After two decades of Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint ads, you know how the big telcos deliver cellular service to your smartphone. Each builds its own nationwide wireless network, boasting that its particular web of data centers, fiber lines, and antennas is faster and more reliable (or at least cheaper) than the others. It’s a battle of the color-coded maps: Verizon’s blood-red cell towers challenging the blue of AT&T and the yellow of Sprint, telcos competing through vast empires of hardware.

But this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona saw the further rise of a movement that seeks to upend this business model, encouraging telcos to build common infrastructure they all can share. Why build three networks when you can build one? Wouldn’t that be better for everyone, telcos and consumers alike? Wouldn’t you get a 5G signal sooner—and for less money?