It is no secret that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to see the whole humanity connected to the web. Unfortunately internet connections are just not available in many places. But Zuckerberg believes he has a solution for this pesky problem.On Thursday, he announced that Internet.org, an organization that Facebook started in partnership with a few other technology companies, is experimenting with drones that are capable of beaming internet in an area from the sky. “In our effort to connect the whole world with Internet.org, we’ve been working on ways to beam internet to people from the sky,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook.
“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. Today we are also bringing on key members of the team from Ascenta, a small UKbased 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.”
Internet.org was launched last year with an aim to bring down the cost of internet connectivity across the world so that more people can connect to the web and utilize web services. Last month at Mobile World Congress, Zuckerberg revealed that Internet.org was working with several telecom operators across the world to reduce the cost of internet connectivity.
Facebook on Thursday revealed that the team exploring various methods to beam internet from sky is part of Connectivity Lab, a new department within Internet.org. It is exploring various options. A solar-powered drone is one option.
“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,” Internet.org noted in a statement posted on its website. “For lower-density areas, low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites can beam internet access to the ground.” In both cases, the internet connection will be beamed through free-space optical communication, which makes use of “light to transmit data through space using invisible, infrared laser beams”. “Free-space optical communication is a promising technology that potentially allows us to dramatically boost the speed of internet connections provided by satellites and drones,” noted Internet.org.
In his attempts to beam internet from sky, Zuckerberg is not alone. Larry Page and Sergei Brin, co-founders of Google, are also interested in connecting more people to the web. Last year Google announced Project Loon that intends to use high-altitude balloons to deliver fast internet in remote areas. Explaining Project Loon, Google says, “Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. People can connect to the balloon network using a special internet antenna attached to their building.” Google had earlier experimented with Project Loon balloons in New Zealand. The company is now testing these balloons in California.
A $60mn acquisition to bring internet to everyone, everywhere. Mark Zuckerberg has his sights set on his ambitious Internet.org and is busying himself delivering internet in the remotest places on earth. To do this and more Zuckerberg is reportedly buying out a manufacturer of drones, Titan Aerospace.
Titan’s drones, which resemble solar-powered airplanes, are designed to fly as high as 65,000 feet and stay aloft for as long as five years — essentially functioning like cheap satellites. They could blanket large areas with wireless Internet signals, although the signals would be slower and unable to handle as much data as land-based Internet connections. For remote places like rural Africa, they would be enough to provide at least rudimentary access to the Internet through mobile phones.
Facebook would have to overcome lots of technical and legal problems before a global Facenet would be a reality. But the idea would allow the social network to one-up its rival, Google, which has its own far-fetched plan to extend the Internet to far-flung places via a network of balloons. And it is a lot closer to reality than Amazon’s idea of drones that will deliver packages.
For once it is nice to see drones connecting rather than decimating indiscriminately with Hellfire missiles…
As for Zuckerberg, the nay-sayers and skeptics see another grand vision of taking control of user personal data (this thought has taken serious roots with the $19bn acquistion of WhatsApp)
Facebook processes 2.5 billion pieces of content and 500+ terabytes of data each day. It’s pulling in 2.7 billion Like actions and 300 million photos per day, and it scans roughly 105 terabytes of data each half hour. The speed of data ingestion keeps on increasing, and the world is getting hungrier and hungrier for data. Facebook’s latest effort is about putting all this data in some perspective, to mine this data for insights across different storage clusters with efficient use of resources and cost leading to real time live performance management on data outputs. And to achieve a seamless integration of data across huge data centres, Facebook has put in place initiatives such as Project Prism and Corona.
‘Project Prism,’ will allow Facebook to maintain data in multiple data centers around the globe while allowing company engineers to maintain a holistic view of it, thanks to tools such as automatic replication. Corona, makes its Facebooks’ Apache Hadoop clusters less crash-prone while increasing the number of tasks that can be run on the infrastructure.
So while Google is indexing information around the world, Facebook is indexing user behavior and reactions to a wide range of stimulus around the world. Now then, the only thing that Facebook would ideally want to fix is the ability to sell this data and get a good price for its share.
RIM has hired JP Morgan and RBC Capital to help search for a partner to license its software. However, Bankers don’t normally help in mere partnership capacities. They become involved when a company has put itself up for sale. And there is no doubt this is exactly what RIM has done. Its announced job cuts last week was a move to make itself more attractive to potential suitors. (Read earlier posts about Blackberry’s fall here – Part 1, Part II, Part III and Reprise)
Whenever RIM/Blackberry is said to be a target of an acquisition, there is the obligatory mention of Microsoft, which makes perfect sense; it would relish the opportunity to beat Apple and Google at their own games while strengthening its existing partnership with Nokia. For that matter, there are plenty of reasons why Nokia might enter the mix and make a play of its own for RIM.
However, the focus really is another company which is trying to make its own smartphone- Facebook. Even while trying to assess whether of nor exactly the value of social media is $96 billion, Facebook has announced its interest in smartphones (not a smart idea really!). We have seen examples of another tech lord miserably failing in terms of hardware – Google and yet its Moto acquisition. If that be the direction Facebook is rooting itself to – Facebook needs RIM as much as RIM needs Facebook.
Facebook has to justify a lot of $s on its ability to monetize 900 million users and its ad revenue model. In RIM, not only will Facebook get a better enterprise presence; it will acquire assets such as RIM’s BB10 software, a growing music service as well as RIM’s Mobile Fusion, a product that supports the collaboration of enterprise mobile devices, even that of competing models such as iPhones and Android devices. These services, as you realize will help Facebook diversify and hedge its risks and further its mobile ambitions.
In Essence, Facebook immediately becomes a hardware and services company while silencing critics who assert that the company does not monetize well and enough and hence the valuation is merely a fad, a bubble.
For RIM, the game is over — end of story! But marry it to Facebook and a whole new dimension could uncover.