Facebook Explores Drones for Internet Access

By Gary Kim March 28, 2014

A team at Facebook, working to support Internet.org, has been working on new technologies to improve and extend Internet access to billions of people without current access, using drones, free space optical communications, low earth orbit satellites and geostationary satellites.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Facebook will become an Internet service provider, but the moves do not rule it out, or prevent Facebook from taking other steps that would move Facebook in the direction of enabling Internet access in the global South.

Like Google Fiber and Google’s Project Loon, the Facebook efforts are aimed at rapidly getting billions of people not presenting using the Internet online, at low cost, and soon.

But Facebook also is testing zero-rated access to Facebook, as one way to introduce people to the uses of the Internet, without requiring out of pocket spending to sample the app.

Begun by the same engineering talent behind Facebook’s infrastructure team and the Open Compute Project, the Connectivity Lab team has been working on developing new platforms for connectivity on the ground, in the air and in orbit, Facebook says.

Ascenta, a United Kingdom-based company with expertise in designing and building high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft, is working on the project.

Facebook says it also has recruited personnel formerly with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Ames Research Center, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

The team’s approach is based on the principle that different sized communities need different solutions and they are already working on new delivery platforms—including planes and satellites—to provide connectivity for communities with different population densities, Facebook says.

Facebook envisions using drones over suburban areas in limited geographical regions. At least at the moment, lower density areas are better seen served by low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites.

The founding members of internet.org include Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung.




Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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