Facebook Wants In On Global Wi-Fi

Another tech titan is investing in worldwide connectivity.

On the heels of its $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, Facebook appears poised for another, potentially more impactful, deal. According to TechCrunch, Facebook will close a $60 million deal for Titan Aerospace, “makers of near-orbital, solar-powered drones which can fly for five years without needing to land.”

Those drones won’t be launching missiles, though. Instead, they could be beaming connectivity to millions of people around the world: Facebook funds Internet.org, an organization with goals similar to Outernet, which plans to use satellites, and Google’s Project Loon, which has already deployed a floating infrastructure of hot air balloons. TechCrunch reports:

From our understanding, Facebook is interested in using these high-flying drones to blanket parts of the world without Internet access, beginning with Africa. The company would start by building 11,000 of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), specifically the “Solara 60” model.

TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez and Josh Constine point out that it’s no coincidence Facebook is looking for the infrastructure and the platform to keep people connected:

If Facebook could project weak but free Internet to developing nations via Titan Aerospace drones, it could then make a basic version of WhatsApp available to those users. They may not be able to send or view photos, but they likely could send messages and view status updates without having to pay for the Internet. While phones are getting cheaper, it’s the data costs that make the web unaffordable to much of the world. Titan’s drones could help Facebook fix that.

For the sake of comparison, here is how those acquisitions stack up:

As the battle for connectivity heats up, consumers — especially those without Internet access — should benefit.

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Mar 04 2014