Widening the net: Facebook drones to cover world in wi-fi

Free-wi-fi strategy also includes low-earth-orbit satellites

Los Angeles

The Facebook drones are coming. The world’s largest social network has unveiled a plan to blanket two-thirds of the world in wi-fi using a fleet of drones flown on solar power, in a bid to connect the billions still living without the internet in underdeveloped regions.

Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, announced this week that his firm had hired several aerospace and communications experts from Nasa to contribute to the “Connectivity Lab” project. Facebook has also taken on five people from the British company Ascenta, the creators of the Zephyr drone, which holds the record for  the longest solar-powered flight by an unmanned aircraft – 82 hours.

Facebook’s free-wi-fi strategy includes not only drones, but also low-earth-orbit satellites and even infrared laser beams to boost internet connections in remote areas. The plan is part of Internet.org, an initiative launched last year by a coalition of major technology companies with a mission to bring internet access to those parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America that remain offline.

“Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote in a post, adding that partnerships with telecommunications carriers in Paraguay and the Philippines have already brought mobile internet to three million more people in the past year. “We’re going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

Although it went unmentioned in Thursday’s announcement, Facebook is also said to have been in talks to buy the Texas firm Titan Aerospace for as much as $60m; Titan is developing drones capable of flying non-stop on solar power for up to five years.

Facebook’s recent activities and acquisitions point to new ways in which the firm hopes to transform the relationship between society and technology – as well as compete with rivals such as Google  and Amazon.

This week, Mr Zuckerberg announced his company’s $2bn purchase of the  virtual-reality firm Oculus VR, which the Facebook boss  said could “create the most social platform ever, and change how we work, play  and communicate”.

If the Oculus virtual-reality headset, Rift, is Facebook’s answer to Glass, Google’s wearable computing device, then the Facebook drones rival Google’s Project Loon – a plan unveiled last year which will see the search giant launch scores of solar-powered wi-fi balloons in remote regions. The two firms’ competing plans to connect the world are not purely altruistic: they also offer a way for Google and Facebook to find new users.

In a 2013 interview with Bloomberg, the Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates said he was in favour of bringing the internet to unconnected corners of the world, but that he was sceptical of its urgency in the poorest regions.

“When you’re dying of malaria, I suppose you’ll look up and see that balloon, and I’m not sure how it’ll help you,” he said.

“When a kid gets diarrhoea, no, there’s no website that relieves that.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea