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Facebook to Deliver Internet via Drones

Douglas A. McIntyre

Facebook Inc.'s (FB) long-term plans to have internet everywhere in the world just took a step forward. It has created a way to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), more commonly known as a drone, to deliver broadband to remote areas. Another related system can be used in emergencies when internet connections are temporarily unavailable.

The head of Facebook's Connectivity Lab, Yael Maguire, wrote in a blog post that several connectivity projects are underway. The one designed for use in an emergency is tiny helicopter attached to light fiber line and power cords. In circumstances where there is a complete internet outage, which includes natural disasters in which traditional broadband is out, the helicopter can use existing fiber lines to stream data. And:

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If the fiber line is still good to a certain point, we can make a virtual tower by flying a Tether-tenna a few hundred feet from the ground. When completed, this technology will be able to be deployed immediately and operate for months at a time to bring back connectivity in case of an emergency — ensuring the local community can stay connected while the in-ground connectivity is under repair.

This is not the only new tech Facebook's Connectivity Lab announced. In urban areas, Facebook plans to deploy internet "nodes" that can overcome wireless dead spots. This technology is being tested in San Jose, which Facebook technicians say is particularly congested.

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In rural areas, Facebook is testing a solar-powered drone that it calls Aquila. It can beam broadband through the stratosphere. Last year, via this tech, Facebook said it "demonstrated capacity at the time was enough data to stream almost 1,000 ultra-high-definition videos at the same time."

When Facebook's Connectivity Lab launched in 2014, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote:

Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world.

With emergency broadband and rural deployment, Facebook just took big steps down the road to that goal.

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