Facebook wants everyone to be on Facebook. To do this, it needs to make sure every single person in the world has the ability to get on the internet. Solar powered drones fitted with satellite technology might be the easiest way to do this.
At least, that is what Facebook is hoping. It acquired UAV maker Ascenta to start work on Project Aquila, the solar drone project. It is similar to Google’s Project Loon, only instead of hot air balloons Facebook is building drones with the wingspan of a Boeing 767.
That might seem more pricey, but the drones might be more stable than a hot air balloon in the long-term. Early tests show the drones can stay in the air for around three months and have a relatively light weight for their enormous size.
Facebook claims that if 1,000 drones are in the air, it will cover most of the world where there is no affordable networks. Any countries or regions that have no drone zones will be diverted to satellites Facebook rents from prominent space companies, like SpaceX.
This is the start of Facebook’s goal to win the internet, by providing it and offering free services through Internet.org. It will work with local carriers, both broadband and wireless, to provide this free service.
The hope is that as the economies of Africa and South America grow, these customers that have utilised the free internet will move to paid customers. These paid customers will hopefully spend more time on the web, which in turn means more time on Facebook.
Facebook has the money to afford taking a hit in these countries, in order to build brand identity.
It’s not all plain sailing, however, as some have accused Facebook of anti-net neutrality by making free services limited to a few Facebook and information services, giving an advantage to its own services.