Facebook Mulls Drones And Satellites For Web Push

Facebook is set to continue its acquisition spree as it enters the drone market and announces new ways to expand the Web’s global reach via its Internet.org iniatitive.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social network is investigating the possible use of drones, satellites and lasers to beam the Internet to the parts of the world without Internet access. Facebook has labelled its collective efforts here as the ‘Connectivity Lab’, part of its Internet.org project launched last August.

Aerospace Acquisition

To help spread the Web to the world, Facebook added to its recent acquisitions of WhatsApp and Oculus VR, with the purchase of a British aerospace company Ascenta.

Ascenta reportedly has just five engineers who are specialists in designing and building high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft. Unlike Facebook’s most recent purchases that had cost it billions of dollars, the company reportedly paid less that $20m (£12m) for the British firm.

“Today, we’re sharing some details of the work Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the Internet to everyone,” explained Zuckerberg on a blog post.

“We’re going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too,” wrote Facebook CEO. “That’s what our Connectivity Lab focuses on, and there’s a lot more exciting work to do here.”

“Our team has many of the world’s leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center,” he added.

“Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft.”

The idea is that the “connectivity aircraft” will use infrared lasers to transmit data in order to deliver the Internet to underserved areas.

“For suburban areas in limited geographical regions, we’ve been working on solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft that can stay aloft for months, be quickly deployed and deliver reliable Internet connections,” said Facebook on its Internet.org website. “For lower density areas, low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites can beam Internet access to the ground.”

Loony ideas?

It is worth noting that Google has similar plans in this regard, although it is exploring the use of balloons (the ‘Project Loon’) to grow Internet coverage in certain regions of the globe.

In March last year, Google began a trial project in South Africa. It later launched the balloons in New Zealand.

Meanwhile Amazon.com is also exploring the use of drones, but instead of Internet access, it is considering the possibility of them being used to help it deliver packages to customers and businesses.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

View Comments

  • Let's remember that web access also means telephone access. And this might be more of what’s at stake here.
    In this context the “combination of drones, satellites and lasers” make sense -- as perhaps the high price Facebook paid for WhatsApp.
    Also, this seems to be along the lines of the independent network that Steve Jobs wanted to set up back in 2007.
    For sure, these pioneering efforts of Facebook and Google towards universal web access are fantastic news for people everywhere -- though a bad omen for the cellular monopoly now enjoyed by Verizon, AT&T and Vodafone.

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