Facebook Would like to Beam Internet From Planes

Even while it faces setbacks using its high-flying drone, Facebook is looking toward other efforts to beam internet from the sky to under-connected regions of the world.

After Facebook’s Aquila internet-beaming drone crashed throughout a test flight this past year, the business’s engineers realized it could take years before its key strength — the opportunity to beam internet signals via millimeter wave technology — will be ready.

The reason why for the delay are as much regulatory because they are technical, according to Yael Maguire, the top of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab. Speaking at the business’s annual f8 developers conference here on Wednesday, he explained that it might take up to a decade before Facebook can realize the entire potential of the drone, which includes the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs significantly less than a Toyota Prius. Besides creating a reliable plane, the business also offers to secure the permits to utilize the millimeter wave spectrum which will connect it to the bottom.

So even while the Connectivity Lab forges ahead on the drone project — it really is still testing Aquila prototypes, among that was on display here (above) — it really is turning towards other rapid-deployment aeronautical innovations that may help connect more of the 4.1 billion individuals who Maguire claims don’t possess reliable access to the internet.

One of these, nicknamed "Tether-tenna," is a little autonomous helicopter built with a tether to a fiber line that may stay aloft for greater than a day. It’s among a few tools in Facebook’s arsenal to resolve the problem that Google, Verizon and others have experienced within their fiber buildouts: delivering fiber to individual homes and businesses is incredibly costly and complicated.

"Connectivity starts with fiber, nonetheless it doesn’t end there," Maguire said. "Fiber may be the backbone," he explained, but it’s very costly and takes too much time to expect it to provide fast and reliable internet in the rural and remote areas where it’s needed most. Therefore the idea is that those zones are certain to get wireless links to the closest fiber infrastructure via the Tether-tenna, among other wireless bridges.

Maguire said the Tether-tenna is "only a few years out" from commercial deployment, unlike the a decade that Aquila will need. It’ll complement the previously announced Terragraph project, which aims to bring low-cost, ground-based antennas to the rural regions of developing nations. If a Terragraph-served area is suffering from a flood or other natural disaster, for example, the Tether-tenna could quickly part of to fill the void created by the damaged antennas or other internet infrastructure.

Of course, flying helicopters (even pilot-less ones tethered to the bottom) costs a lot more than flying a fixed-wing craft just like the Aquila. Maguire claimed that the Terra-tenna and other projects will enhance the price, performance and speed of online connections, but a very important factor Facebook hasn’t talked much about in its infrastructure unveilings may be the profitability of its designs, apart from to say they’re area of the company’s general mission for connecting more people to the web.

And even while Facebook continues to test out planes, helicopters and Terragraph (which is currently in testing mode within San Jose, just a couple blocks from where Maguire was speaking), it still cannot avoid the necessity to build more fiber. So that it does that, too: a recently announced project in Uganda involves creating a 448-mile fiber line to supply backhaul connectivity covering a lot more than 3 million people.

But perhaps a lot more than any technical or regulatory challenge, the business’s mission to provide better access to the internet to underserved areas can be threatened by broader social and economic factors. By some estimates, a lot more than two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities by 2050, up from just over half today. So a lot of those 4.1 billion people without access only will move to better-connected cities over the next a decade, before Aquila and Terra-tenna get the opportunity to really soar.

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