Imagine being on vacation in the most unexplored locations on Earth while still enjoying internet access. This could soon become reality given Facebook’s efforts in the recent past to explore ways of enhancing Internet connectivity in areas with inadequate infrastructure.
According to reports, Facebook recently explored ways to use tiny, almost pocket-sized, drones to boost mobile data speeds. It involved small, bird-sized fixed-wing aircraft that could be used to boost Smartphone data speeds. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to BI that its aerial project, codenamed “Catalina” was discontinued about a year ago. The goal was not to beam down a functioning internet connection to completely remote areas, but instead to augment existing, 2G-level connections to allow Smartphone users to stream video and perform other more data-intensive tasks. A BI report described the drones as designed to carry “high-density solid state drives… that could then be used to ferry data,” so perhaps the drones would act as a mesh network of sorts between a grounded connection and a user’s Smartphone to facilitate high-bandwidth data transfers.
Facebook has been working consistently on a slew of internet connectivity projects.
Facebook discontinued a small helicopter drone project in 2017 which was aimed at temporarily replacing cellular services in emergency situations. A teaser of the project was shown at the F8 developer conference in May of 2017; however it was discontinued a few months later. The project involved sending a helicopter equipped with telecommunications equipment hundreds of metres up in the air to be able to tether to fibre and power lines in places where wireless capacity was compromised due to disaster or other factors.
Again in June 2018, Facebook announced its decision to abandon its plan to develop high-flying solar-powered drones called Aquila that was aimed to deliver Internet to nearly four billion people in remote parts of the world much like Alphabet’s high-flying Loon helium balloons. the Aquila project began in 2014. In 2017, the solar-powered drone successfully completed the second full-scale test flight.
A high altitude platform station (HAPS) system, Aquila’s mission, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, was to connect the world and help people who do not have online access all the opportunities of the Internet.
That effort’s most visible projects have been Facebook’s Internet.org initiative despite the setbacks that organization has faced in India with its Free Basics and Express Wi-Fiofferings for fast-growing Smartphone markets.
In June 2018, Facebook announced it was still working with Airbus to develop better versions of HAPS that can be built into aircraft for the purpose of beaming down high-speed internet from low Earth orbit. At the time, the company also said it was “actively participating in a number of aviation advisory boards and rule-making committees in the US and internationally.”