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Facebook turns to satellite technology for internet connectivity

Facebook space

Facebook turns to satellite technology for internet connectivity

Around a month after announcing that it is putting an end to its internet-providing drone project, social media site Facebook has revealed its latest plan in providing internet access to the more remote areas of the planet.

The company has recently confirmed its plans to release a satellite into low orbit that would be able to beam down internet connections. It will send a number of satellites into space at altitudes of between 100-1,250 miles above the Earth.

According to a leaked email from the company, which was obtained by WIRED after it called for the data under the Freedom of Information Act, it plans to release the first set of satellites, which have been called Athena, into the stratosphere as early as next year.

The data also showed that a company called PointView Ltd submitted an application to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for permission to launch the satellite to beam internet connections to the ground. Athena would be part of a two-year testing period for Facebook.

The news comes a matter of weeks after Facebook decided to end its endeavours in Project Aquila, which was a solar-powered drone with the same objective as the satellite.

Satellites already exist in high orbit that beam down internet signals to unserved areas of the world, however, more often than not, these result in slow connections. However, Facebook’s plan is for its satellites to fly in a lower orbit and provide 5G connections to those who need them.

A spokesperson from Facebook told WIRED that it does not have anything specific about the project to share with the public at present, but the company does believe that satellite technology will play an important role in enabling the next generation of broadband infrastructure. This, it believes, will make it possible to provide strong internet connectivity to areas of the world where current internet access is either non-existent or lacking.

Facebook’s readiness to launch Athena in the new year may come as a threat to other companies that are devising similar pieces of technology such as SpaceX, which is being run by Elon Musk, and OneWeb, which is under the guidance of Richard Branson.

The speeds Facebook is proposing to offer as part of this project would already outdo those of SpaceX, which is offering gigabits per second speeds. However, Branson’s OneWeb has also submitted an application to the FCC to develop a network of 700 satellites, which has been called ‘Starlink’.

Facebook has long had the objective of providing internet access to the more remote areas of the world but has so far struggled to devise a plan that successfully turns these goals into a reality. Maybe Athena is the answer it is looking for?

Alan Littler

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