Lasers, satellites and drones: How Facebook plans to deliver Internet to the developing world


Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg smiles in the stage before delivering a keynote speech during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 24, 2014. REUTERS/Albert Gea

Facebook is working with NASA scientists and aerospace engineers to develop lasers that can beam Internet down to underserved populations, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday.

Facebook has already given 3 million people in Paraguay and the Philippines access to the Internet through their mobile devices, Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post, citing mobile operator agreements. Zuckerberg also announced that Facebook's connectivity lab had hired several people from Ascenta, the British-based company that built a solar-powered airplane capable of long periods of flight.

"Connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too," Zuckerberg wrote. "That's what our Connectivity Lab focuses on, and there's a lot more exciting work to do here."

The announcement confirms what many have long suspected: That Facebook is interested in using drones and possibly satellites to bring broadband to developing countries. But the company is also apparently looking to more traditional hubs of innovation — such as NASA's Ames Research Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory — for inspiration.

This is a significant move, in part because NASA already has considerable experience with Internet-by-laser technologies. Last year, the space agency successfully tested a 622 Mbps broadband connection over a distance of 239,000 miles — the distance between Earth and a satellite hurtling toward the moon.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect Facebook's  agreements with mobile network operators.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · March 27