Last week Facebook’s Aquila project took another step in its quest to provide internet access to the 5 billion of earth’s inhabitants who currently have no connectivity. The venture has however not been without its critics.
Two thirds of the world’s population currently live in areas of the globe without a connection to the internet (some however choose to live there for that very reason) these are remote areas where the population is relatively thinly spread and the costs of installing terrestrial base stations would be prohibitive. Both Google and Facebook are working on similar solutions to the ‘problem’.
The Google solution called ‘project Loon’ builds a network in the sky using transceiver-equipped balloons floating at around 60,000 feet. At this altitude the wind speed is typically only around 5 knots and their plan is to keep the balloons in position by altering their altitude, making use of layers of wind which can blow in different directions.
The Facebook project Aquila uses powered V-wing drones with a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737. They operate at the same altitude as the Google loons and uses energy from solar cells stored in batteries to keep the drone circling in position. Cloud is not a concern at that altitude so communication between drones will take place using laser channels.
The Aquila network will be part of Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ service, giving users free access to a restricted number of internet sites (yes, Facebook is one of those sites). Some observers have criticised the scheme because it clearly compromises the principle of net neutrality. Following the European court's decision to fine Google $2.7 billion last week for what was judged to be unfair practices, many other companies will no doubt be getting jittery. Cyberspace is becoming increasingly dominated by a just a handful of tech giants, is it the place of governments to make them accountable?