Can Giant Facebook Drones Bring The Internet To Billions?

Suzanne Robertson
Facebook will create thousands of drones which will fly 17 miles above the Earth.

Four billion people are currently unable to get online. Facebook hopes to change that. The social media giant has plans to build drones the size of jumbo jets to fly above the Earth and provide wireless internet access in developing countries. 

Plans call for the aircraft to be built the size of a huge commercial aircraft, like a 747. One prototype is about the length of seven cars. 

Earlier this year, the social network announced that it was trying to purchase drone maker Titan Aerospace but lost the bid to Google. Facebook originally wanted to create over 10,000 smaller drones with the company. 

"We're going to have to push the edge of solar technology, battery technology, composite technology," said Yael Maguire, the leader of Facebook's Connectivity Lab. 

To fly for months and years at a time the drones will need to fly around 17 miles above the ground, avoiding weather that could strike down drones. 

Rules regarding satellites will “play a very useful role”, said Maguire, but the company will also have to “help pave new ground”.

Regulations regarding human operators will need to be tweaked if the drones are created. Currently the ratio of person to drone is one-on-one. Facebook hopes to change the rules so that one person can control up to a hundred.

The planes will be tested at some point next year over the United Stated and the company wants to have them flying over developing countries within three to five years. It has already chosen locations around the world to deploy including Latin America, Asia and Africa. 

Facebook is a main advocate for the  project which aims to connect those around the world who remain offline.

Google launched Project Loon in 2013 which is investigating the use of high-altitude weather balloons for the same purpose.