Facebook is working on two new connectivity systems called Terragraph and Project ARIES. The company has other plans to deliver the Internet like via satellites, lasers and drones, but Terragraph and ARIES are terrestrial or ground based networks.
Terragraph network: This network consists of a multi-node wireless system, that will deliver internet in dense urban areas. Facebook mentions that the network will operate at the 60 GHz spectrum, which in countries like United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China, South Korea, Japan, is unlicensed.
Facebook will essentially deploy a WiGig network, equivalent to WiFi, but in the 60 Ghz spectrum. The nodes for these networks will be deployed across the city at a distance of 200-250 meters on objects like signals and light poles, and can handle up to 7 Gbits transmission rates. The social network will use its data centers for routing the traffic, while WiFi access points will provide the final point of contact for consumer devices.
Project ARIES: ARIES stands for Antenna Radio Integration for Efficiency in Spectrum, which focuses on delivering internet over large areas. The company has built a test base station with 96 antennas, which can support 24 streams over the same radio spectrum. The technology will replace multiple input and multiple output (MIMO) technology used by 4G for multipath propagation. According to the company, this provides 10 times the efficiency of 4G, and can be used to help broadcast out connections to remote rural areas.
As of now, Facebook has been testing these technologies at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, and has a larger trial planned for the city of San Jose in California.
Facebook’s drones: Facebook has been making slow progress on Aquila, its drone plan. The company recently mentioned that the drone will have an autopilot, no fuel tank, will run on solar energy, and will be able to fly for months at a time. The company is yet in the designing and testing stages of the drone. Similarly, Google has been having a tough time with its Project Loon as well.
– Last month students from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay developed a proof-of-concept network which relies on TV white space for transferring information. The testbed network provided broadband in 13 villages or hamlets, with each village typically in the range of 5 km of the installation.
– In September last year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that the company would provide ‘low-cost broadband technology’ to 500,000 villages in India. However, the company recently hit a roadblock when minister for communications and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad said that this spectrum would be provided through auctions.
MediaNama’s Take: As Facebook reaches a saturation point in western markets – 75% of the US market had already signed up for the platform in 2011 – it becomes increasingly important for the company to approach untapped countries like India where just over 20% of the population has access to the internet. Initiatives will Terragraph, ARIES and Aquila will help the company bring these people online, and to eventually use Facebook. These initiatives, even if they cost the end user a nominal amount, are significantly better than initiatives that provide free and partial internet.