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TheStreet Open House

Facebook Wants to Bring Drones and Lasers To Deliver the Internet

Stocks in this article: FBNOKQCOMERIC

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Facebook (FB) has grand and ambitious plans to connect everyone on Earth to the Internet, with its Internet.org initiative. Today, it announced the next steps behind this initiative.

In a post to his Facebook page, CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Connectivity Lab, the team getting this plan up and running, and how it's going to do so. "Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world," Zuckerberg said on the Facebook post. "Today, we're sharing some details of the work Facebook's Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone."

Zuckerberg noted that the plan has shown an early return on investment, helping get 3 million new people connected to the Internet in the Philippines and Paraguay alone.

At the time of the Internet.org announcement, Zuckerberg noted that though smartphones are likely to get cheaper in the coming years, it is still a difficult task to get people connected to the Internet in third-world countries, because the cost of data is so high. "Even though projections show most people will get smartphones in the next decade, most people still won't have data access because the cost of data remains much more expensive than the price of a smartphone," Zuckerberg wrote in the initial blog post, announcing Internet.org in Aug. 2013.

Facebook is working with Nokia (NOK), Qualcomm (QCOM), Samsung, Ericsson (ERIC), MediaTek and Opera on the initiative.

"Our team has many of the world's leading experts in aerospace and communications technology, including from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center," Zuckerberg went on to say in the post. "Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UK-based company whose founders created early versions of Zephyr, which became the world's longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft. They will join our team working on connectivity aircraft."

Facebook is rumored to have been in talks with drone maker Titan Aerospace for $60 million to help with the plan.

Here is the full post announcing Connectivity Lab:

Last year Facebook and other tech companies launched Internet.org, a global partnership to make the internet available to the two thirds of the world's population that doesn't have it. We believe connecting the world is one of the greatest challenges of our generation, and that everyone deserves access to the knowledge, tools and opportunities that come from being connected.

Today, Mark Zuckerberg announced a team at Facebook that has been working on new technologies to improve and extend internet access. Begun by the same engineering talent behind Facebook's infrastructure team and the Open Compute Project, the Connectivity Lab team has been working on developing new platforms for connectivity on the ground, in the air and in orbit.

To make these platforms a reality we've recently added some of the world's top experts on aerospace technology including the team from Ascenta, a UK-based company with a deep expertise in designing and building high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft. The five-member Ascenta team has combined more than 100 years of experience in the aerospace industry including leadership positions with QinetiQ, Boeing, Honeywell and the Harris Corporation. They have worked on noteworthy projects like the Breitling Orbiter and early versions of Zephyr, which became the world's longest flying solar-powered unmanned aircraft.

Other recent additions to the team have come from organizations including NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's Ames Research Center, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.

The team's approach is based on the principle that different sized communities need different solutions and they are already working on new delivery platforms-including planes and satellites-to provide connectivity for communities with different population densities.

For suburban areas in limited geographical regions, we've been working on solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft that can stay aloft for months, be quickly deployed and deliver reliable internet connections.

For lower density areas, low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites can beam internet access to the ground.

For all of these systems, the team is looking at Free-space optical communication, or FSO, is a way of using light to transmit data through space using invisible, infrared laser beams.

FSO is a promising technology that potentially allows us to dramatically boost the speed of internet connections provided by satellites and drones.

More info on our approach can be found here.

Facebook is focused on solving hard engineering problems by building ambitious solutions to address them. We're looking to people who share this passion and we've posted open positions for this team on the Facebook Careers page.

--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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