Facebook’s efforts to spread Internet connectivity to nearly every person on the globe will get off the ground this summer. A new report from The Wall Street Journal indicates that Facebook’s prototype drone, dubbed Aquila, will be much larger than the one-tenth-scale drone that the company tested in early March.
The full-size model will have the wingspan of a Boeing 737 (117 feet), but will only weigh as much as a small car (we’re assuming something that weighs less than 3,000 pounds). “Depending on how this test flight goes, we’ll see what happens,” says Jay Parikh, Facebook’s VP of Engineering. “This is a big plane, this is a big project and it’s never been done before.”
The drones are capable of cruising at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet, and can stay aloft for months at a time thanks to solar panels embedded in the massive wings and onboard lithium-ion batteries. Each drone will be capable of “[beaming] down backbone Internet access” to people across the globe — those who otherwise wouldn’t have easy access to Internet connectivity — as part of the Facebook’s Internet.org efforts. According to Facebook’s estimates, there are anywhere from between 1.1 billion to 2.8 billion people on the planet that don’t have access to the Internet.
“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10% of the world's population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post yesterday.
As to where that Internet access will come from, Facebook will partner with existing mobile carriers rather than develop its own service. “I think it would take a lot longer if we were going to do it all by ourselves,” adds Parikh. “It would take a lot of money and I don’t think it’s sustainable long-term.”
Internet.org currently offers free, basic Internet service to people living in countries like Colombia, India, Ghana, Kenya, Indonesia, and Tanzania.