Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday confirmed its new Connectivity Lab, via Internet.org, that’s being used for research on bringing the world online. The news is part of Facebook’s partnership with other leading technology companies—Qualcomm, Nokia, Samsung, and more—that are collaborating to solve the problem of giving the roughly two-thirds of the world’s population access to the Internet. Zuckerberg said connections spanning the globe will be made possible with satellites and drones, and take advantage of Free-space optical communication, FSO, giving folks speeds comparable to fiber optic cables.
Basically, the team will deploy autonomous drones around the globe at roughly 65,000 feet, out of commercial airspace, and ping users with infrared laser beams. The beams themselves will be invisible to the naked eye, but they’ll be capable of transmitting data, which will give users the opportunity to get online even if they’re in a remote location. Zuckerberg said the collaborative effort of Internet.org has already doubled the number of people using mobile data in the Philippines and Paraguay, and it can do the same in other locations.
The Connectivity Lab team is comprised of NASA aerospace and communication engineers, so the initiative definitely has the talent to make the Internet drones happen. Zuckerberg’s plan is similar to Google’s balloon-based Project Loon. The Connectivity Lab drones, however, are designed to take advantage of solar power, with operations designed for battery power at night. In areas where drones don’t make sense, Facebook would use low-orbit satellites to beam Internet signals to users.
Earlier this month, Facebook reportedly purchased drone-maker Titan Aerospace, and will presumably use that company’s technology to realize its Internet World. It’s unclear how quickly the team can get Internet-beaming drones into the sky, but the wheels are already in motion. Zuckerberg intimates that today’s announcement is just the beginning, and that the team still has a long way to go until it can get the world online.
In larger cities and more urbanized areas Internet and Wi-Fi access is so commonplace and easy to come by. But we forget that nearly two-thirds of the world, where infrastructures are often too expensive, go without it. Today’s announcement, along with other possible solutions, is a small step toward Zuckerberg’s dream of connecting everyone.