Facebook furthers web expansion plans at F8

Apr 13, 2016, 3:30 PM EDT
Facebook flower. (Source: mkhmarketing/flickr)
Facebook flower. (Source: mkhmarketing/flickr)

How to better deliver internet to those without was a topic of focus at Facebook’s F8 developer conference in San Francisco this week. Little wonder perhaps. The company has been at the center of controversy around providing free internet all year (its Free Basics program was rejected by both India and Egypt for various reasons). But the F8 conference isn’t usually about politics; rather, it’s about the technology itself. True to form, CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed the company's plans has for bringing connectivity to the billions of people on Earth without it. He mentioned Aquila, the giant solar-powered drone that debuted last year, as part of the company’s web expansion plans, noting that it can fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet and stay airborne for months at a time.

Aquila, while separate from other initiatives Facebook has launched to try to disseminate internet, will likely end up bridging some of them, for example the company’s satellite project to ground users. Aquila is not part of the same Internet.org project that will launch a satellite in the next few months, but it could function as an intermediary of sorts. The EE Times details that the Aquila has a wider wingspan than a Boeing 757 plane, weighs less than a small car, can circle a remote region for up to 90 days, cruising between 60,000 and 90,000 feet, and it might be part of a bigger network of aircraft that will connect using optical laser beams that communicate among gateways in rural regions and the Aquila.

All of this sounds pretty futuristic, but lofty notions are generally a part of the F8 conference each year, with Facebook explaining a bit more about its road map for projects. Aquila, Internet.org, and satellites were not the only projects that earned spotlight time from Zuckerberg when it came to exploring how the company plans to further build out web connectivity around the world. The Telecom Infra Project — announced in February — got some face time too. 

The TIP aims to establish telecom infrastructure capable of onboarding the millions of devices that connect to networks each year, addressing operational problems for these networks, and engineering new and efficient ways to run the networks. Zuckerberg emphasized that making management of networks easier for telcos will hopefully translate into savings for users on mobile networks.

Facebook’s projections for the year (and years) ahead are just those: projections. It remains to be seen whether or not the company can successfully disseminate the web via an internet-delivering drone/plane, or further its controversial satellite project, along with ground-based initiatives such as Free Basics. But planting the seeds of innovation never hurts.