Facebook looks to drones, satellites and lasers to connect everyone to the internet

Social network plans to harness new technology to beam internet services to the 70pc of the population which is not yet online

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 11:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 11:13pm

Facebook is harnessing satellite, drone and other technology as part of an ambitious and costly effort to beam internet connectivity to people in underdeveloped parts of the world.

The world's No1 social network revealed on Thursday that it has hired aerospace and communications experts from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and its Ames Research Centre for the new "Connectivity Lab" project.

"Today, we're sharing some details of the work Facebook's Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone," Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on Facebook.

He did not specify a time frame for the project.

The move extends the social networking company's effort, aimed at connecting billions of people who do not currently have internet access in places such as Africa and Asia. Facebook has been working with telecommunications carriers to make internet access more available and affordable.

"We're going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too," Zuckerberg said in his post.

Facebook envisages a fleet of solar-powered drones as well as low-earth-orbit and geosynchronous satellites delivering internet access to different regions of the world. Invisible, infrared laser beams could allow Facebook to dramatically boost the speed of the internet connections provided by the various aircraft, Facebook said on a web page explaining the project.

Facebook's plans to take to the skies underscore the company's rising ambitions to exert its influence beyond the confines of its 1.2 billion-member social network.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced US$2 billion plans to acquire Oculus VR, a maker of virtual reality goggles that Facebook hopes could become the future computing platform.

Facebook is following in the steps of Google, the world's largest internet search engine, whose Google X division is working on a variety of so-called "moonshot" projects including self-driving cars and wearable computers.

Google announced plans last year to use solar-powered balloons to deliver internet access to remote regions of the world.

Among the job openings posted on Facebook's website on Thursday were roles such as antenna systems engineer and electro-optical network access hardware engineer.

Facebook also said it had hired a five-member team that worked at Ascenta, a British company whose founders created early versions of the Zephyr, which Facebook said held the record for the longest-flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. aims to connect the more than 70 per cent of the world's 7 billion people who are not yet online.

Zuckerberg has previously said that access connectivity is not the main obstacle to getting the world online. He noted at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona, Spain last month that more than 80 per cent of the world's population live in areas with 2G or 3G wireless access. More important, he said, is giving people a reason to connect: basic financial services, access to health care information and educational materials.

Facebook's acquisition of a company called Onavo last autumn also fits with's vision. Onavo develops data compression technology, which helps applications run more efficiently. This is especially important in developing countries, where people have access to much slower internet speeds.

Additional reporting by Associated Press