Facebook’s quest to bring the entire world online has a long road ahead of it. While it certainly seems like everyone uses the internet, 62.7 percent of people in the world still don’t use the internet and getting access to it is the biggest issue, especially in the developing world.
Internet.org is a Facebook funded project that plans to get that 62.7 percent number a bit lower. They hope to one day bring the internet to the entire world, presumably so that they will become Zuckerberg’s friend on Facebook.
Today, Zuckerberg announced that the Internet.org project has brought internet to another 3 million people in the Phillipines and Paraguay. That is impressive for a company that was just started by Facebook and other tech companies last year, but it is still a far cry from connecting the 2/3rds of the people on this earth that don’t have access to the internet.
Hoping to bring the project to the next level, Zuckerberg announced the creation of a team called Connectivity Labs, which is part of a talent acquisition of the U.K. based Ascenta, which worked on projects like the Zephyr, the worlds longest flying unmanned solar aircraft.
In order to bring internet to the unfortunate mass of people who haven’t gotten to experience it, Facebook is taking two approaches. One is for low level orbiting satellites. They can provide reliable internet connection to low density areas but require a constant line of sight to the users. Since they operate outside of the earth’s orbit, there needs to be enough of them up there that there is always a satellite for users to access. What they plan to do is build a ring of satellites that will essentially create an internet backbone up in the air.
But the distance between the earth and the satellites also make it a less than ideal solution for high density areas. For this, Facebook is working on something not unlike the Zephyr.
Facebook plans to fly drones at around 20,000 meters above the earth’s surface. That is higher than commercial airplanes and even weather systems, but low enough to provide a reliable connection for those below. The solar powered drones will fly in circles above suburban areas for months at a time, beaming internet to the population below.
To help everything communicate, Facebook wants to use lasers, yes lasers, to help these satellites and drones talk to each other and to devices on earth below. Facebook says these “Free Space Optics” will provide data streams similar to what you would find on fiber optic lines.
It is all very sci-fi, but Facebook has been into sci-fi a lot these days.