Facebook’s Zuckerberg Sees Drones, Satellites Spreading Net

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday described his plans for bringing broadband Internet to remote areas through satellites, lasers and drones. To support that vision, the company announced Friday that it has purchased the UK-based Ascenta, a pioneer in solar-powered unmanned aircraft.

The purchase price for Ascenta was reportedly $20 million.

At this point in humanity's evolution, only one-third of the planet's population has Net access. In a post Thursday on Facebook's blog, Zuckerberg wrote that he wanted to share some additional information his company's Connectivity Lab is doing to "deliver the Internet to everyone" through the non-profit organization Internet.org.

Founded last year, Internet.org's backers include Facebook and several mobile phone companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera Software and Qualcomm). Google's Project Loon is an R&D project with a similar vision of providing Net access to remote areas, but through the use of high-altitude balloons.

Philippines and Paraguay

Zuckerberg said that the organization's efforts in the Philippines and Paraguay "have doubled the number of people using mobile data with the operators we've partnered with," resulting in 3 million people gaining Net access.

The Connectivity Lab's team, he said, includes experts in aerospace and communications technology from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center. Additionally, specialists are being added from Ascenta, which created early versions of Zephyr, the world's longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.

His post links to the Internet.org site, which features a video promoting the idea of solar-powered planes providing connectivity to remote areas.

The site describes the use of satellites with very high capacities for areas of low population density, solar-powered planes flying for months in circular formations to support suburban areas, and infrared lasers connecting the flying platforms.

Cost vs. Benefit

Matt Davis, director of Consumer and SMB Telecom Services at industry research firm IDC, told us that Internet.org's vision comes down "as always" to cost...

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