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Facebook Unsurprisingly Shelve Project Aquila – Broadband via Drones

Wednesday, Jun 27th, 2018 (9:28 am) - Score 1,027

The social media giant’s attempt to bring internet connectivity to poorly developed parts of the world (around 4 billion people still do not have access) by using high-altitude unmanned aircraft (HAPS) – Project Aquila – has failed to launch and instead looks set to gather dust on the runway of progress.

Facebook’s original plan was to develop their own aircraft so that they could circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter for up to three months at a time, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using lasers and millimeter Wave (mmW) spectrum bands (they’ve previously managed to harness 60GHz in order to transmit 40Gbps between a ground location to a circling Cessna aircraft over 7kms away).

The aircraft itself (pictured is a prototype demonstrator model) was said to have the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it would consume only 5,000 watts (roughly the same amount as three hair dryers running on max). However such a solution was technically very complex and is unlikely to have been particularly cheap to develop (most of the work was done by their team in Bridgwater, UK).

On top of that not all governments were receptive to a Facebook controlled internet service, particularly so in the wake of recent scandals over personal data slurping and promotions of fake news during election campaigns etc. Suffice to say that Project Aquila has now been grounded, although the idea isn’t completely dead.

Statement from Facebook

As we’ve worked on these efforts, it’s been exciting to see leading companies in the aerospace industry start investing in this technology too — including the design and construction of new high-altitude aircraft. Given these developments, we’ve decided not to design or build our own aircraft any longer, and to close our facility in Bridgwater.

Going forward, we’ll continue to work with partners like Airbus on HAPS connectivity generally, and on the other technologies needed to make this system work, like flight control computers and high-density batteries. On the policy front, we’ll be working on a proposal for 2019 World Radio Conference to get more spectrum for HAPS, and we’ll be actively participating in a number of aviation advisory boards and rule-making committees in the US and internationally.

Connectivity for everyone, everywhere is one of the great challenges of our generation. Facebook has already connected nearly 100 million people as a result of our efforts. And we are continuing to invest in developing next-generation technologies like Terragraph, working with partners on new infrastructure builds like our [fibre optic] project in Uganda, and supporting entrepreneurs in programs like Express Wi-Fi — all to help connect the 4 billion people who still do not have access to the Internet.

We’re excited about what’s next.

Sometimes the traditional approach of building new masts or cables is a lot more straightforward. We can’t help but wonder whether Google’s similarly tedious approach of using hot air balloons (Project Loon) might end up blowing the same way.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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1 Response
  1. Avatar photo 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G) says:

    Facebook is also instrumental in getting very cheap 60GHz to market as well as projects to lower the cost of RAN – all could help speed on ground deployment

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