Facebook Debuts Terragraph & ARIES to Extend Wireless

The tower will bring 5G to rural areas in developing markets, Parikh said.

Project ARIES
A Project ARIES prototype. (Source: Facebook)
A Project ARIES prototype.
(Source: Facebook)

In another connectivity initiative, Facebook is developing drone called Aquila, which can fly for months at a time, and had to invent an entirely new aircraft design to do it, Parikh said. Today's aircraft aren't designed to go months at a time connecting with lasers. (See Facebook Buys British Drone Specialist and Facebook, Google in New Drone Race.)

The flight time requires reducing every kilogram and component. First, designers removed the tail. "The second thing we did is remove the pilot, remove the cockpit, remove the bathroom -- we don't need any of that," Parikh said. A control system replaces the pilot.

Facebook Man
Facebook VP engineering Jay Parikh delivers his keynote Wednesday.
Facebook VP engineering Jay Parikh delivers his keynote Wednesday.

Facebook also replaced the fuel tank, replacing it with solar power.

What's left is essentially a wing.

"We built it out of carbon fiber to make it extremely lightweight and make it look cool," Parikh said.

The Aquila drone will be deployed a short distance from a city, and communicate with other drones in a network connected by laser connections or freespace optics. The network can achieve 10s of gigabits of connectivity and scales out.

All this wireless Internet activity is part of Facebook's ten-year-plan to get everyone in the world online and then feed them Facebook Messenger bots, AI and virtual reality, as described by Mark Zuckerberg in his keynote Tuesday. (See Zuckerberg Launches Messenger Platform, Live Video APIs and Zuckerberg: Facebook Must Stop Nations 'Building Walls'.)

More than 4 billion people, more than half the world, still lack access to the Internet, either because they don't live near a network, they can't afford it or can't see the benefits. Terregraph and Project ARIES fit into solving that first problem by extending network access.

For awareness, Facebook is pushing its Free Basics program. Facebook says it's a service designed -- as the name implies -- to offer free, albeit limited, Internet to people who otherwise wouldn't have it. Critics say Facebook is trying to give itself and its partners a business advantage over competitors by offering versions of their service for free. (See Andreessen Facepalms on Facebook Free Basics, India Deals Death Blow to Facebook's Free Basics .)

Facebook isn't alone looking to extend Internet service into the developing world; Google has a similar plan, only instead of drones Google is looking at gigantic balloons, in a program Google calls "Project Loon." (See Google's Internet Balloon Project Takes Flight and Project Loon Reaches India.)

Nor is Facebook alone seeking to exploit the unlicensed WiFi spectrum. Carriers and cable companies are looking to use managed WiFi to extend the capacity of their wireless networks. (See Comcast WiFi for Business Goes Live, Cellular, WiFi & the 'CEO Pitch' and Wi-Fi First & Foremost.)

And high-speed public WiFi is key to New York and other smart cities efforts as well, extending wireless access to residents. (See Qualcomm Spills LinkNYC's Guts, Gigabites: The Big Apple Gets Gig WiFi.)

— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading.

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steve q 4/14/2016 | 10:57:00 PM
Re: Race Is this the same plan that Verizon wireless is looking into with the new 5g and Boston Ma?  I see the best idea is to find better way's so those on the move can stay online and keep the business world moving. The need for more Wi-Fi hotspot's in area that need to reach more customer.
Mitch Wagner 4/14/2016 | 2:16:25 PM
Re: Smart city implications msilbey - By application elements, you mean smart parking alerts, streetlights, trash bins, and so on?
Mitch Wagner 4/14/2016 | 2:15:29 PM
Re: Race danielcawrey - Yes, Google and Facebook are in the amazing positions of having run out of people on the planet to use their service. They can either get more peole on the Internet online, or discover life on other planets. 
msilbey 4/14/2016 | 12:52:51 PM
Smart city implications I am very interested in how this (Project Aries) plays out in conjunction with smart city initiatives. It seems likely that any new city-based wireless infrastructure experiments will have to include a smart city application component. When testing this out in the US at least, it just makes sense to do both at once. 
danielcawrey 4/13/2016 | 9:25:05 PM
Race This race between Google and Facebook to connect the world will only become more competitive.

Both companies must continue to grow, and the fact that they are both deep in initiatives to do this suggests they know the trajectory. It's simple: they need more users, and giving those users internet is the solution to growth. 
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