Rumors recently bubbled up
that Facebook was considering buying drone-maker Titan Aerospace, with an eye on using drones to deliver broadband services to developing countries. While that deal hasn't been finalized yet, Facebook's Internet.org initiative has announced
the development of a "connectivity lab" that will focus on a number of possibilities for bringing broadband to nations that lack infrastructure (with an eye, of course, on potentially billions of new ad eyeballs).
For suburban areas in limited geographical regions, Facebook says the company has been working on solar-powered high altitude, long endurance aircraft capable of staying aloft for months. For lower density areas, the company is eyeing low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous satellites to help beam internet access to the ground.
For all of these systems, Facebook's connectivity lab team is looking at Free-space optical communication (FS) as a way of using light to transmit data through space using invisible, infrared laser beams. "FSO is a promising technology that potentially allows us to dramatically boost the speed of internet connections provided by satellites and drones," insists Facebook.
Facebook's certainly not the first to enter this arena; telecom history is filled with companies with similar ideas, most of them failing to get off the ground or being more hype than substance (remember stratellites
?). Google's also interested in this sector, having announced last year a broadband-by-hot-air-balloon project under the moniker Google Loon
To help speed these ambitions along, Facebook says they've spent $20 million to acquire UK company Ascenta, which specializes in high-altitude long-range aircraft. Alongside Facebook's recent acquisition of virtual-reality company Occulus VR; Facebook boss Mark Zuckerburg has catergorized these moves as investments in the company's "distant future."