Facebook Drones Could Bring Internet Everywhere

John Lister's picture

Facebook is said to be buying a company that makes airborne drones. It seems it's not an attempt to carry out snooping or attack rivals, but rather a plan to extend Internet access to places it's impossible to reach at the moment.

The company in question is Titan Aerospace, which manufactures what it calls "atmospheric satellites." Unlike traditional satellites, they operate around 20 kilometers (12 miles) above Earth, which is just short of the point of being in orbit. Drones such as the Solara 50 look and operate similar to an airplane, but have solar panels on its wings, and can carry up to 100kg of cargo.  (Source: techcrunch.com)

The difference is that the atmospheric satellites remain in a relatively fixed position. They are solar powered, charging a battery during the day for use at night. That means they don't need the power of most airborne devices and vehicles, so in theory, the devices should be able to run for five years without maintenance.

Internet Satellites Should Pose No Risk To Aircraft

Because the devices will be positioned so high, they won't interfere with flights and won't come under the rules laid down by airspace regulators other than during the initial "takeoff."

Facebook reportedly intends to use the satellites to relay Internet signals. The idea is to reach more remote areas where it simply isn't financially viable to run cables and where there's limited or no availability of Internet access over cellphone networks.

Eventually that could mean targeting rural areas in the United States, though initially Facebook looks set to concentrate on Africa. Under the deal, Titan Aerospace would initially build 11,000 satellites to build a network.

Google And Facebook Could Battle For The Skies

Facebook isn't alone in looking to the skies to solve the problem of extending Internet access. Google has already tested "Project Loon" in which it puts antenna, similar to that used in cellphone towers, into balloons. (Source: wired.com)

Under that plan, the balloons will travel at a similar height to the Facebook satellites. Although the balloons won't stay in place, the plan is to build up a line of balloons that form a moving ring around a particular latitude. That would mean that anyone along that ring would always have at least one antenna passing close enough to get a signal.

Both companies are at such an early stage in the projects that they haven't revealed charges (if any) to customers using the devices. It's possible there may be little or no cost, with the tech giants simply reasoning that the more people are able to get online, the more money they'll make in the long-run from selling ads.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think balloons and atmospheric satellites could be an effective way to spread Internet access in remote areas? Is it reassuring or worrying that Google and Facebook are the companies behind these plans? Do you think tech firms should concentrate on serving economically established countries, rather than those which are not yet developed? Lastly, do you think drones pose a risk to the public?

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ezturner's picture

Internet connections other than phone and FIOS could truly complete the communication network now incomplete because of sparse population areas. Problem is, though, that just like microwave technologies already existing, drone satellites will be severely affected by atmospheric conditions.

gi7omy's picture

Considering that a guy in Deer Trail Colorado is trying to get the town council to issue licenses to shoot down drones, somebody will probably start selling anti-aircraft guns for the purpose - LOL

darylhutchins's picture

There has to be a better way than filling the sky with missiles. Only 20km up, nothing will burn-up ... I hope I'm not around when something malfunctions, or an accountant decrees that they can stay up just one more year.

equestrian_colt's picture

However since they are in bed with the Government like the NSA and Nazi Mayors against everything they will allow them to use them to spy without the peoples (the true government)consent.