We’d bet that when Mark Zuckerberg drunkenly dashed off the original Facebook precursor in his dorm room, he never imagined that within a decade he’d be actively trying to connect two-thirds of the world to the Internet and working with NASA to do so, but that is indeed what has transpired.
Zuckerberg announced that Internet.org, the organization comprising Facebook and many other Internet companies, is “working on ways to beam internet to people from the sky” by building drones, satellites, and lasers in the new Facebook Connectivity Lab.
Different population densities require different solutions. For example, in low population densities, the team is looking to satellites. They’ll use low-orbit solutions as well as geosynchronous systems. But for suburban areas with a higher population density, they’re looking to planes--drones, really--that will fly at 20km, run on solar power, and stay aloft for months at a stretch. (This jibes quite directly with Facebook’s desire to acquire Titan Aerospace.)
To connect these objects and keep the data flowing, the group is working with lasers to pipe data over the air in high-capacity streams that approach what you’d get over fiber optic cables.
“Our team has many of the world's leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center,” wrote Zuckerberg in a Facebook post. “Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world’s longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.”
Zuckerberg stated that Internet.org has already successfully worked with mobile operators to bring Internet access to some 3 million people in the Philippines and Paraguay.