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.