SOCIAL networking site Facebook plans to connect the two-thirds of the world currently with no internet access, using drones, satellites and lasers.
Site founder Mark Zuckerberg yesterday announced the launch of the Facebook “Connectivity Lab”, to create technology offering “affordable access to basic internet services” to everyone.
Rival Google has already revealed plans to connect people to the web using solar-powered balloons. Both firms hope to harness the growing market in the developing world.
Facebook has already partnered with telecoms firms in Phillipines and Paraguay in a bid to double the number of people connected to the internet there.
“We’re going to continue building these partnerships, but connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too,” said Mr Zuckerberg on his Facebook blog. “That’s what our Connectivity Lab focuses on, and there’s a lot more exciting work to do here.”
A statement on Internet.org – a project launched last year by Facebook and a number of other technology companies including Nokia and Samsung to achieve global connectivity – outlined the technologies to be developed.
Among them were solar-powered, high-altitude, long endurance aircraft that can stay aloft for months, which can be quickly deployed and deliver reliable internet connections, as well as low-orbit and geostatic satellites that can beam internet access to the ground in areas of low population density.
Researchers are also looking to develop free-space optical communication, or FSO, which transmits data via invisible, infra-red laser beams. “The Lab team’s approach is based on the principle that different sized communities need different solutions and they are already working on new delivery platforms – including planes and satellites,” said the statement.
It also revealed that Facebook has acquired UK-based company Ascenta, a five-man firm headquartered in Somerset, which created an early version of Zephyr, the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.
Rumours circulating earlier this month that Facebook was interested in buying drone-maker Titan were not mentioned in yesterday’s statement.
Analyst Mark Little from Ovum said Facebook was aiming to push its user base well beyond its existing 1.2 billion.
“Zuckerberg is pushing this as an altruistic way of connecting more people in the world – the net as a basic human right – but by increasing the total of net connections it also increases Facebook’s members and the amount of sharing done, which in turn creates more space for advertising and drives its revenues in a massive way,” he said.
Google is testing its solar-powered balloons, which it calls “Project Loon”. Users would connect to the balloons’ internet in remote areas using an antenna.