Facebook Hopes To Cover Globe With High-Speed Access

Facebook will start test flights this summer in an effort to take Internet access worldwide.

Facebook executives “want to serve every person in the world,” as the head of the company’s Connectivity Lab, Yael Maguire, put it.

To reach the several billion people who still lack Internet access, Facebook hopes to deliver high-speed access by drone. The New York Times reports:

Facebook’s drone team, which came to the company through the acquisition last year of the drone maker Ascenta, say they believe their solar-powered craft can eventually be aloft up to three months at a time, beaming high-speed data from 60,000 to 90,000 feet to some of the world’s remotest regions via laser….

“Can we reach a point where everyone on the planet gets the same message at once?” Mr. Maguire said. “I’m looking forward to that day.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the final design of his company’s drone, dubbed “Aquila,” in a Facebook post yesterday: Its wingspan will include solar panels and be wider than the wingspan of a Boeing 737. It will weigh less than a car and maintain altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time.

“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world,” Zuckerberg wrote, “because they can affordably serve the 10 percent of the world’s population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure.”

He said the first test flight has already been “successfully completed” in the United Kingdom.

The New York Times reports, however, that full commercial deployment could take years and executives have yet to determine what it will cost to reach the final version of Aquila:

[Facebook executives] appear comfortable with spending billions to realize that vision. Others are not so sure.

“Like Google, Facebook gets a pass, because they’ve defied critics and are run by visionary leaders looking out five or 10 years,” said Scott Kessler, an analyst with S.&P. Capital IQ. “Still, people would like to know what this costs, and if it makes money.”

What’s your take on Aquila? Sound off in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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