Reports are in that Facebook is looking to spend about $60 million in an effort to acquire Titan Aerospace. While Mark Zuckerberg describes the deal as philanthropic, the effort to expand the Internet to outlying areas could be in Facebook’s best business interests. An increase in the consumer base with access to the Internet, and therefore Facebook, would certainly mean an increase in potential revenue. To that end, Facebook is looking to soar through the skies with a giant solar drone from Titan Aerospace.
The drone, or in reality a fleet of drones, would be able to beam high-speed Internet to entire continents. The process is similar to the now-defunct Teledesic Network that attempted to provide global Internet access via satellite in the late 1990s. The difference between Teledesic and Titan Aerospace is in the method of delivery. Titan Aerospace, a New Mexico company, will provide broadband access not with satellites but with unmanned solar-powered aircraft. The aircraft drones would operate as high altitude wireless hot spots. Because they are solar powered, the drones are able to stay aloft for up to five years.
This purchase would heat up the rivalry between Facebook and Google. Already, Google is not only attempting to become a high speed Internet service provider through Google Fiber, but has begun testing Project Loon balloons over New Zealand and California’s Central Valley. Project Loon balloons would provide Internet connectivity from the stratosphere from a network of balloons. While Google is looking to soar through the skies providing Internet access with balloons, the purchase of Titan Aerospace would allow Facebook to provide broadband access with solar-powered drones.
Logistically, it may be more effective and efficient to increase connectivity from the sky instead of from the ground. Getting access to rural and outlying areas would be far easier from above than from below. The difference between the intensive labor required to lay massive amounts of pipe in trenches to provide access, or sending more unmanned drones up into the sky, could be astronomical. If the drones operate and stay aloft for up to five years as Titan claims, reaching remote areas could become not only easy but fairly cost-efficient.
Currently, two-thirds of the population of the world still does not have Internet. Both Google and Facebook are attempting to rectify that lack and provide broadband to the five billion people who continue to go without. The current indication is that Facebook, with the purchase of Titan, would begin in Africa with a fleet of 11,000 Titan Aerospace drones, specifically the Solara 60 model.
The solar-powered Solara 60 model, as well as the Solara 50, is able to use an internal battery pack to launch at night. The drones, with zero emissions, would be capable of storing enough sunlight to remain airborne for up to five years. While Facebook is looking at the technology in order to provide Internet access globally, the actual possibilities of the unmanned aircraft are innumerable. Some of the possibilities could include rapid disaster response, meteorite tracking, global positioning, ocean temperature monitoring, and search and rescue operations. The atmospheric satellite applications remain to be explored. In the meantime, Facebook is looking at the purchase of Titan Aerospace as a means to soar through the skies and provide Internet access to all.
By Dee Mueller