Facebook is considering buying an American company developing solar-powered drones that could be used to provide Internet access to people in remote areas in developing countries.
Inspired by Google’s Loon project, which aims to secure Internet connectivity in isolated regions through a network of helium-filled balloons, Facebook has been reported to be negotiating a deal worth £36m with Titan Aerospace to set up its own remote Internet network.
The story was first revealed by technology Blog Techcrunch and later reported on CNBC.
However, Facebook’s spokesman Tucker Bounds declined to comment.
Previously, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg established the Internet.org project, partnering with Qualcomm, Samsung and Nokia, among others, which aims to provide Internet connectivity to more than five billion of the world's seven billion people who still don’t have regular access to the Internet.
It was suggested Titan's solar-powered atmospheric satellites could well fit into the objectives of the Internet.org project.
These drone-like atmospheric satellites, which are still in development and not yet commercially available, can stay in the air for as long as five years, according to reports. Titan's website cites a wide range of uses for the drones, including atmospheric and weather monitoring, disaster response and voice and data communications. The last two could be the reasons for Facebook's interest in Titan.
However, last week at the Mobile World Congress, Zuckerberg said that connectivity access is not the main obstacle to getting the world online.
He said more than 80 per cent of the world's population live in areas with 2G or 3G wireless access. More important, he said, is giving people a reason to connect: basic financial services, access to health care information and educational materials.
Facebook's acquisition of a company called Onavo last autumn also fits within Internet.org's vision. Onavo develops data compression technology, which helps applications run more efficiently. This is especially important in developing countries, where people have access to much slower internet speeds.