Imagine giant drones flying through the sky beaming high-speed internet to developing areas of the world. Wait, Facebook wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when I painted that picture for you? That’s about to change.
It’s old news that last year Facebook acquired solar-powered drone makers, Ascenta, for $20 million dollars. This was a part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative to bring internet access to the two-thirds of the population still lacking internet connectivity. However today at F8, Facebook’s developers conference, Mark Zuckerberg revealed details regarding the drones, how they work, and their plans to blanket the earth with these machines.
Boeing 747 for Size Comparison
The drone formally goes by the name of Aquila and is the size of a Boeing 747 (See image to the right for size comparison), however, it is lighter than a compact vehicle. These solar-powered flying machines rely upon the power of the sun (integrated solar panels) to stay up in the air. As a result, they have the ability to stay airborne for up to 3 months! The drones are also programmed to coordinate coverage areas with one-another to ensure the most adequate blanket of coverage possible.
Each drone will remain around the altitude of 60,000 feet, providing connectivity to up to 90,000 individuals within the estimated radius of 1,200 square miles. Facebook claims that with 1,000 of these drones, they can blanket the entire planet with internet connectivity.
Providing countries without connectivity access to the internet is not a new concept. Google has been hard at work on connecting the world with Project Loon; an initiative to use balloons to provide internet connectivity to developing countries.
However, Facebook is convinced that this initiative is going to take the coalition of multiple companies to achieve such ambitions. Per Internet.org:
Making the internet available to every person on earth is a goal too large and too important for any one company, group or government to solve alone. Everyone participating in Internet.org has come together to meet this challenge because they believe in the power of a connected world.
Google and Facebook may be able to co-exist after all. While the two technologies function in drastically different ways, the connectivity that they offer is similar. Google’s balloons will be able to stay in the air for around 100 days and will utilize solar energy; similar to Facebook’s Aquila. However, Google’s Project Loon only provides a radius of 40 KM or around 700 square miles; barely over half of Facebook’s drone coverage radius. Where Google is ahead of Facebook is in regards to testing and implementation of the service. The company has been testing their balloon connectivity since 2013 which started in New Zealand. They have since branched out to parts of California and Brazil with plans to expand. Facebook has not announced a formal roll-out schedule and is expected to be in the testing phases during the immediate future.
As you can see, the two projects are extremely similar and with two-thirds of the world in need of internet, we would have to agree with Mr. Zuckerberg that it will require a group effort.
You can read more details on Facebook’s internet.org initiative, here.
What do you think about Facebook’s drone initiative? What do you think Facebook’s revenue strategy will be with these drones? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.