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Summary:

The team will work on drones and satellites that can blanket entire areas with connectivity.

Facebook Drone concept
photo: Facebook

The Internet.org initiative will rely on a new team at Facebook called the Connectivity Lab, based at the company’s Menlo Park campus, to develop technology on the ground, in the air and in space, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Thursday. The team will develop technology like drones and satellites to expand access to the internet across the world.

“The team’s approach is based on the principle that different sized communities need different solutions and they are already working on new delivery platforms—including planes and satellites—to provide connectivity for communities with different population densities,” a post on Internet.org says.

Internet.org, which is backed by companies like Facebook, Samsung and Qualcomm, wants to provide internet to the two thirds of the world that remains disconnected due to cost, lack of infrastructure or remoteness. While many companies are  developing business models and partnerships in areas that lack internet, the Connectivity Lab will focus on sustainable technology that will transmit the signals. Facebook envisions using drones that could fly for months to connect suburban areas, while more rural areas would rely on satellites. Both would use infrared lasers to blanket whole areas with connectivity.

Members of the Connectivity Lab have backgrounds at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Ames Research Center and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Facebook also confirmed today that it acquired five employees from Ascenta, a U.K.-based company that worked on the Zephyr–a solar-powered drone capable of flying for two weeks straight.

The lab’s work will build on work the company has already done in the Philippines and Paraguay, Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. And, like the company’s Open Compute project, there is a possibility that the lab will seek partnerships with outside countries once the bulk of the technology has been developed.

“Over the past year, our work in the Philippines and Paraguay alone has doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we’ve partnered with, helping 3 million new people access the internet,” he said.

  1. One of the big issues surrounding use of satellite technology is latency. Most satellite providers, such as Hughes, Galaxy and Xplornet are limited by average RTTs of 300-700ms. I’m curious if using laser technology might solve this.

    Current tech is also subject to data transfer limitations (Xplornet’s satellite service has a 200 MB daily limit at last check) which probably won’t be an issue with lasers vs radio frequency, but you never know.

  2. BenjaminGilead Monday, March 31, 2014

    pfft, talk is cheap, where is the prototype? When Google announced their project loon they are, at the same time going to test it. This is just all a me-too-has-moonshot PR campaign by facebook.

  3. Ravindra S Karve Friday, April 4, 2014

    We want to participate. Why no response to earlier requests?

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