Facebook has announced that they are working to create platforms that will deliver Internet access to the large parts of the planet that don’t have it. They are considering several options including flying drones and satellites, both using infrared lasers to beam connections to users. This is being done under the name of the Facebook Connectivity Lab and includes experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, the Ames Research Center and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
Google announced something similar last year with its project Loon that is looking to bring Internet access using large balloons. Google has already run tests with the technology last year in New Zealand. The balloons fly high up in the stratosphere, far above weather, and they can be placed where needed by moving them higher or lower to use wind layers that travel in the desired direction.
I find it fascinating that these companies see enough benefit to themselves to spend a huge amount of money to bring Internet to people that can’t get it today. There are varying estimates of how much of the world has Internet access today, but I’ve seen several estimates that say that half of the world still doesn’t have access. So these two companies have decided that they want to be the first to get to the remaining billions of people
Certainly these companies both will benefit financially by having large numbers of additional customers. And one can certainly expect that if Google or Facebook brings Internet access to some remote area that the Internet access they deliver will be highly flavored by their brand name.
Both companies are actively engaged in gathering data about the world and the people who use their services. Once can only imagine how much more they could learn if they are able to add an additional billion people to that data gathering effort.
Nobody was surprised when Google took on this effort since they are infamous for tackling one-off and interesting ideas. But I think a lot of people were surprised to see Facebook tackle this. But this is not Facebook’s first foray into hardware. They have spent a lot of effort to redesign the servers used in data centers and they have developed a new generation of servers that are faster and that yet need less power and generate less heat.
And Facebook is not just going after the unserved and rural third world. They are working on a project that will use solar-powered high-altitude planes that stay aloft for months over the suburbs of big cities.
And recently Facebook bought Oculus, a gaming company that specializes in virtual reality headsets. They have in mind to create an immersive Facebook experience. I don’t know about you, but I am not sure I am quite ready to get too immersed with my Facebook friends!