Image of Aquila, Facebook's solar-powered drone, on a test flight over the UK.
Mark Zuckerberg / Via Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg wants to beam Internet access from drones

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is taking his plans to increase global Internet access to the skies.

During a keynote presentation at F8, Facebook’s developers conference held last week in San Francisco, Zuckerberg laid out his vision along with leaders from Internet.org, a nonprofit Facebook venture that aims to provide Internet access to people in developing countries.

The buzz on social media started just before Internet.org’s F8 presentation, with this post by Zuckerberg.

As part of our Internet.org effort to connect the world, we’ve designed unmanned aircraft that can beam internet access…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, March 26, 2015

Just shy of a year since Zuckerberg published a white paper detailing his plans for the future of Internet connectivity, the Facebook CEO has successfully completed the first test flight for Aquila – the unmanned flying aircraft designed by Facebook’s nonprofit arm that beams “Internet access down to people from the sky.” While still in the testing phase, and many years away from commercial use, the test mission is a significant first step toward a world in which everyone has access to the Internet. 

According to Zuckerberg, the final version of the drone will have a “wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 but will weigh less than a car.” Each drone will be solar-powered and could hover for months at a time at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet in the air. In an interview earlier this year, Yael Maguire, who heads up Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, discussed the vision of the project, saying that the hope is to have a fleet of around 1,000 drones where possible for the purpose of connecting people to the Internet.

“The technology to build the Aquila drone didn’t exist a year ago.”
Jay Parikh, Vice President of Engineering, Facebook

That of course is assuming regulators around the world agree to the presence of the drones. But regulators are not the only ones posing a threat to Facebook’s mission to connect the globe. Critics have remained skeptical, claiming the motives of Zuckerberg and Internet.org are less than altruistic. Some have even accused Facebook of using this venture solely as a means to increase the company’s global penetration and therefore its bottom line. There are also some preservationists who fear a completely connected world would lead to cultural losses, especially within the few societies that have remained untouched by the modern age. 

As technology companies look to grow revenues and add new users, many are looking to developing nations for new opportunities.

Only about 16% of Africa’s population has access the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center. And mobile phones are much more popular than land lines in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Bangladesh and Uganda. Many people who become newly connected to the Internet do so through mobile devices.

Internet.org could provide benefits to the areas it serves. For example, an expansion of Internet connectivity could eventually lead to greater access to information and education. In Bangladesh, the Internet is primarily used for job hunting, according to Pew. Whether one agrees with Zuckerberg’s venture or not, the Facebook founder has helped bring the world one step closer to a fully connected society.

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Mark Zuckerberg wants to beam Internet access from drones