In the third installment of our sneak preview blogs by contributors to the 2016 State of Broadband Report, a team from Facebook share a unique project to expand Internet access in developing countries.
The full report will be published here at 13:00 CET on 15 September 2016.
Internet access can offer life-changing opportunities, information and experiences, but there are still nearly 4 billion people not connected to the Internet.
Around 1.6 billion of these people live in remote locations and do not have access to broadband networks due to the costs associated in bringing conventional networks to those areas. Aiming at expanding connectivity worldwide and bridging barriers to digital inclusion, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is developing new technologies, including high-altitude unmanned aircrafts, lasers, satellites and terrestrial wireless systems to provide connectivity to communities with different population densities.
Most recently, the Connectivity Lab announced a big milestone: the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, Facebook’s high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned solar-powered airplane.
Aquila has a wingspan bigger than a Boeing 737 airplane but weights much less than an electric car due to its design and carbon-fibre frame. It flies on solar power during the day and battery at night.
When in operation, Aquila will be part of a fleet of aircraft beaming Internet access to people within a 60-mile diameter for up to three months at a time. It will fly above commercial air traffic and weather. It will use space laser communications as a mechanism for communicating between aircraft in the fleet, and e-band technology to beam connectivity from the airplane to the receivers on the ground.
Aquila’s first full- scale flight took place on 28 June 2016 in Yuma, Arizona. In future tests, the Connectivity Lab team will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet.
This work is extremely important for Facebook and its mission to connect the world. New technologies such as Aquila have the potential to bring access, voice and opportunity to billions of people around the world, and may do so more rapidly, and more cost effectively, than has proved possible to date.
Facebook is a 12-year-old social media network based in California.