How Facebook promises to use technology to connect the world

Published on April 19, 2017 | Written by Emma Hinchliffe

Facebook took a few minutes during the second day of its developer conference F8 to remind us that it’s still trying to connect the entire world — not just to each other, but to the internet.

With the Telecom Infra Project, Facebook is working to solve connectivity access problems for different kinds of communities around the world. Or as Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Yael Maguire wrote in a blog post published after he took the stage at F8, “creating community to connect communities.”

Terragraph

One of Facebook’s major connectivity projects is called Terragraph. The technology is designed to provide high-speed internet in dense urban areas.

The reasons for internet lagging in urban areas are very different from the problems that face unconnected rural areas. Terragraph is supposed to end dead zones and increase network capacity by extending better quality fiber internet using wireless technology instead of building more fiber.

The project is being tested in San Jose, but still has a ways to go.

Aquila

In rural areas, Facebook is tackling different problems. The tech giant is using Aquila, a solar-powered unmanned plane/drone to “beam connectivity through the stratosphere.”

Aquila flew a test flight last year and broke records for Facebook’s connectivity projects, Maguire said. It also crashed.

“This ground-to-air record modeled, for the first time, a real-life test of how this technology will be used,” Maguire wrote. “This technology is applicable to a number of Facebook’s connectivity solutions. It can serve as a terrestrial backhaul network to support access solutions like OpenCellular, or as a reliable backup to free space optical solutions such as the laser communications gimbal and optical detector in case of fog and clouds.”

Tether-tenna

Facebook also has plans for connections needed during emergencies. Tether-tenna is a small helicopter attached to a fiber line that can be flown to create a virtual tower a few hundred feet above the ground.

Tether-tenna could be deployed immediately in the case of a natural disaster or other emergency and then used to provide connectivity for a few months while any other sources of connection are still lost or under repair.

“This is still in the early stages of development and lots of work is needed to ensure that it will be able operate autonomously for months at a time, but we’re excited about the progress so far,” Maguire wrote.

Facebook introduced some of these projects a year ago, and since then has seen some progress, and a drone crash.

“Developing next-generation technology takes a lot of testing and iteration — we know these projects will take a decade to develop,” Maguire wrote. “But if we’re going to build communities that work for everyone, that starts with building connectivity that works for everyone.”

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