You can add Facebook to the list of application providers that are becoming Internet access providers on a wide scale.
Facebook has purchased Titan Aerospace, giving Facebook the ability to launch fleets of solar-powered drones providing Internet access to billions of new users in the global south.
Titan Aerospace manufactures a solar-powered high-altitude drone that can stay aloft for five years.
Facebook is interested in dispatching some 11,000 unmanned aerial vehicles over parts of the globe that lack Internet access, beginning in Africa, according to the report. The Titan Aerospace drones would represent a novel attempt to bring Internet access services to billions of people at lower cost than has been possible so far.
The Tital Aerospace purchase is expected to assist the Internet.org project, which is similar in intent to Google’s “Project Loon,” which uses fleets of balloons, not aircraft, to bring Internet access to billions of people in the global south.
About two thirds of the world’s population does not yet use the Internet, representing perhaps five billion potential users.
One key barrier is the historically high cost of access infrastructure. Mobile networks are expected to provide such access for hundreds of millions of people, over the next decade. The issue is how to provide access to billions over the same time frame, at very low costs.
One might argue that balloon-based, drone-based or Wi-Fi-based access methods compete with mobile or satellite methods of providing Internet access.
In some cases that might be the case. In many other cases the alternatives will represent the primary means of connection, especially in remote areas where disposable income remains low.
In fact, one might argue that traditional telecom network approaches inherently are too expensive to provide low-cost Internet access to billions of new users in the global south, where typical per-capita household income can be measured in dollars per day.
Some of us would describe the business model issue, at a high level, as working back from a few dollars a month in revenue, per household to create the infrastructure and also support operating costs.
That is a challenging task, and eventually might “compete” with existing mobile, fixed network or satellite Internet access methods to some extent. Over time, the conflict will lessen, as typical household income will grow over the next couple of decades.
But some friction will be inevitable as Facebook, Google, and eventually others, will become ISPs.
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