Facebook is working on delivering internet globally via a bunch of drones, satellites and lasers. According to founder Mark Zuckerberg internet signals will be beamed down from a plane or a satellite flying overhead, which will communicate to earth using accurate lasers to transfer data.
Interestingly, just last month it was reported that Facebook was backing out of its plan to build satellites to provide internet access. The satellites would apparently have cost an estimated $500 million, a cost too prohibitive for the company. The same report also mentions this cancellation was unrelated to Zuckerberg’s 2014 discussion on satellites helping deliver Internet for Internet.org.
Although there are no further details on the current plan, it’s worth noting that Facebook had acquired the UK based aerospace company Ascentra in 2014, to help it build connectivity aircraft. Ascentra had previously build the early versions of Zephyr, an unmanned solar-powered aircraft. However, there have been no further updates on this front either.
OneWeb initiative: OneWeb, which recently raised $500 million from Bharti Enterprises, Virgin Atlantic and other investors, plans to provide high speed internet access globally via 648 satellites it intends to launch by 2019. The company, formerly known as WorldVu, plans to provide small user terminals which will connect to these satellites and transmit internet to the surrounding areas through LTE, WiFi, 2G and 3G. The company mentions its small cell terminals will be 3GPP compatible, enabling them for use with various telecom operators using their existing infrastructure.
Google’s project Loon: In February Google had said it was looking to bring Project Loon, its balloon powered Internet service to India, and was working with the government for the same. Mohammad Gawdat, VP of business Innovation at Google X, said then that the technology giant will be looking at commercial format for the project by 2016. The company had partnered with Australia’s largest telco Telstra to run a pilot of the project with 20 balloons on a part of its 2.6GhZ spectrum.
Our take: As we have said before, using satellites, drones and lasers for internet sounds like a great plan, but the practicality is questionable. While Facebook did acquire Ascentra last year, there has been no news on this front yet, which makes us think the project might be harder than it sounds. However, Zukerberg’s recent announcements come on the heels of reports that Facebook isn’t interested in satellites anymore. So maybe Facebook does indeed have something interesting up its sleeve.
Image source: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center