Facebook’s internet drone has been making headlines for some time. Speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the world that the internet drone will finally be launched later this year.
The internet drone is powered by solar energy and can stay aloft for months. The goal of the drone is to provide internet to remote regions of the planet.
The solar aircraft itself is physically massive: it has the same wingspan as a Boeing 737. Its weight, however, is about the same as a car.
That massive size is required in order to fit all of the solar panels: the wings are covered in solar panels that will power the aircraft for 3 to 6 months while it cruises around at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet (passenger aircraft fly at around 37,000 feet).
Why is Facebook Doing This?
“The idea is you can send it out to a place where it might be too expensive to deploy infrastructure otherwise,” Zuckerberg said. “It will just fly and stay up there and can beam down Internet access.”
There are two reasons to do this:
1) Because it’s a nice thing to do to people in the developing parts of the world
2) Because someone might pay you to offer internet service to remote areas (say, like remote mining camps or research facilities in the middle of the jungle)
In any case, Facebook knows that more internet access = more Facebook users. And more Facebook users = more money.
Facebook originally unveiled the project in June 2015. Over the past few months, the company has been perfecting the aircraft and laser communications system that links the drones together while also linking drones to their ground stations.
If there’s a Facebook drone over your area, then you’ll be able to connect to the drone to receive WiFi or LTE signals.
“We’re going to do our first trials at full scale a bit later this year,” said Zuckerberg, speaking at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Over the past few months, Facebook engineers have been testing a scale, working model of the drone every week to prepare for the launch of the full-sized aircraft.
What is Facebook’s plan after it has hundreds of drones in the air all over the world?
Facebook plans to take the idea to the telecommunications industry. Instead of offering its mobile service directly to users on the ground, Facebook will setup deals with the telecommunications industry.
So, for example, Facebook might partner with AT&T to provide free communications service in say, McMurdo Base, Antarctica. And then AT&T might advertise that service to existing AT&T users, or they may charge their own premium price for the service.
In any case, between Facebook’s drones and Google’s hot air balloons, we’re about to see internet in a lot more places around the world than ever before.