Facebook to begin testing its Internet drone this year

The solar-powered aircraft can stay aloft for months and provide Internet to remote regions

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, speaks at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Feb. 22, 2016. Credit: GSMA

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, speaks at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Feb. 22, 2016. Credit: GSMA

Facebook will begin test flights of its solar-powered Internet drone later this year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Monday.

The Aqulia aircraft has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs about the same as a car. Its wings are covered in solar panels that provide enough energy to keep it aloft for three to six months at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet, well above aircraft.

It's one of Facebook's answers to the problem of extending low-cost Internet access to parts of the world that don't currently receive it. It's also something of an engineering marvel.

"The idea is you can send it out to a place where it might be too expensive to deploy infrastructure otherwise," Zuckerberg said. "It will just fly and stay up there and can beam down Internet access."

Facebook unveiled the project in June 2015 and has been working on perfecting the aircraft and the laser communications system that will be used to link drones together and to ground stations.

Internet users will receive WiFi or LTE signals from the drone.

"We’re going to do our first trials at full scale a bit later this year," said Zuckerberg, speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Engineers are currently flying a scale model every week in tests ahead of the flight of the full-size craft, he said.

If the project goes according to plan, Facebook will be in a position to take the idea to telecommunications carriers. Like Google, which is proposing using balloons, Facebook will offer the service to existing mobile networks rather than direct to users.

"Hopefully in the next year or so, we’ll be able to incorporate this into what we come and talk to our operator partners about, to help extend all the networks to regions where it might not have been previously economical to build out traditional terrestrial networks," Zuckerberg said.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags MWC 2016

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?