Facebook ‘Aquila’ Drones will Deliver Internet to Unconnected Billions

by Matt Klassen on March 31, 2015

Facebook revealed yet another stage of its audacious and ostentatious plan to become the Internet for the unconnected billions that populate our planet, and this time it’s all about drones. No my friends, it won’t be a bird, nor a plane, nor Superman you might see in the sky in coming years, it’ll likely be one of Facebook’s 1000 proposed giant Aquila drones, ostensibly flying Internet routers with wingspans larger than a Boeing 737, designed to bring the Internet to the rural areas of our world.

In a keynote address on the second day of its F8 conference in San Francisco, Facebook announced its plans to use such high tech, lightweight flying hardware to beam broadband signals down to the unconnected billions in the world, a move that follows the company’s bold Internet.org campaign that currently offers users in the developing world free access to the Internet, or Facebook’s own carefully constructed version of the Internet at least.

It’s truly scary to see Facebook’s worldwide Internet plan unfolding, as it strikes me as equal parts evil and genius (one can almost hear Mark Zuckerberg practicing his maniacal laugh). Much like marketing campaigns designed to reach young children– knowing that reaching people early and often is truly the key to lasting brand awareness and interaction– Facebook is creating an online ecosystem that it will be able to deliver to anyone, anywhere on the globe, providing those who are only now having their first experiences online with free (or low cost) access to the worldwide web, but only the parts the social network wants them to see.

“The idea of this,” Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, told an audience at F8 regarding the company’s proposed drone program, “is to loiter across an area at very high altitude — 60,000 to 90,000 feet in the air — stand on station for months at a time and beam down backbone Internet access.”

Now granted it strikes me as a perfect solution to the extant infrastructure issues that have so far prevented broadband access from reaching rural areas and other geographically remote locales. Instead of footing the bill for cabling or towers or other such expansive hardware, Facebook will simply fly an Internet router over these areas and beam down broadband service.

As mentioned, the Aquila drones will have a wing span larger than a Boeing 737 yet due to their lightweight construction, will weight about as much as a small car. Further, like many drones designed to stay aloft for months on end, the Aquila drones will sport solar panels, and given that they are unmanned, they stand as a potentially perfect solution to reaching the unconnected billions.

“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10% of the world’s population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure,” Facebook CEO said in a post to the social network.

But again, Facebook’s ever-expanding Interent.org initiative is frightening in both its reach and its execution, as unless Google is able to develop its own strategy for how to reach rural and remote locales around the world in short order, the social network will be the first to reach these billions, and given its plan to offer its own carefully constructed Facebook-centric online ecosystem for free, it stands a good chance of ostensibly becoming the Internet for much of the world (although I would guess it fills that role for many in the developed world as well).

Several years ago I predicted that Facebook would emerge as the world’s most powerful tech company, but since then advances by rival companies had me doubting my own prophetic powers. With Facebook’s Internet.org campaign, however, I can clearly see the potential for the company to dominate the Internet around the world, and that notion frightens me to my very core.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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