back to article Facebook: We want a solar sky cruiser comms net that DARPA couldn't build

Facebook hopes to operate a fleet of solar-powered flying drones to provide wireless internet connectivity to the poor, it was suggested on Tuesday. And the Mark Zuckerberg-led social network is considering buying New Mexico-based Titan Aerospace for $60m to make this happen, it's reported. Titan's drones fly at vast heights …


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  1. Mikel

    19 Billion for whatsapp

    I asked then "How many wifi blimps for that?" It seems he's on it.

    The third world is going to get broadband! Hooray. Hopefully we can get them to sell us everything that isn't nailed down. Seriously though, it will be nice to hear from them first hand.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: it will be nice to hear from them first hand.

      Sure will - as soon as they get electricity to power all those shiny Ipads they must have.

      I do hope Mr Zuck gets this done. It will be hilarious watching him try to pass himself off for a humanitarian (bitch!), and it will be even more fun watching the whole financial debacle that will ensue.

      11 thousand drones in the air 24/7/365 for years on end ? Won't happen.

      But hey, at least some doctors will be able to post fund/material requests faster (I hope).

    2. dan1980

      Re: 19 Billion for whatsapp

      Cool; can he send one my way too? I'd sure like reliable broadband! (Inner-Sydney.)

  2. Khaptain

    Personally I can't imagine any truly beneficial nature behind this kind of project, I just pray that he won't play the "Save Humanity" card.

    In my personal view :- Zuckerberg is to Anthropolgy as a Shepherd is to Astrological Physics.

    1. Havin_it

      Astrological Physics, you say?

      I'd give the shepherd a fair crack of the whip, tbh.

  3. Dave 32


    Why? The whole premiss of Facebook is based on advertising. But, who wants to advertise to a civilization that doesn't have any money to spend on the advertised products?

    Or, maybe the advertising isn't about physical products, but ideology? Oh, sure, that'll go over well when the advertising prompts the next revolution. How long until some administration starts buying obsolete microwave ovens, removing the doors/interlocks, and starts beaming interference up to those planes? :-(

    Plus, what happens when the batteries on one of those birds deteriorates just a bit, and allows it to drop down into a commercial air traffic corridor, taking down a commercial airliner in the process? Can you say "Liability"? I bet there are a LOT of lawyers that can! US$60M? That'll be a drop in the bucket when the suits are finally settled.


  4. phil8192

    Not likely to meet goals

    While 65,000 feet isn't outer space, it's still a harsh environment for man or machine. At the standard lapse rate the air temperature is around -170C, too cold for batteries to work well or reliably. The likelihood of a drone and its electronics operating there unattended for months or years looks pretty slim for anyone with an engineering background. Whatever. What's it to me if Zuckerberg throws away his firm's money?

    1. dr2chase

      Re: Not likely to meet goals

      Aerogel's not a bad insulator, and batteries tend to warm up with use, either charging or discharging. And I read that it's -60C; darn-cold, but not -170C. Military-grade electronics (I just looked at some opamps) seem to be rated to run at -55C, so I would not declare that this is unpossible.

  5. K

    Zuckerberg to the 3rd world..

    "You don't need water, sanitation, security or medical care.. have some porn and cat videos instead.. its on me!"

    1. The Man Himself Silver badge

      Re: Zuckerberg to the 3rd world..

      Prefix that comment title with "Send ", and it starts to sound like an attractive proposition

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Welcome to the Internet.....Please sign in with Facebook....."

  7. SisterClamp
    Thumb Down

    Mega-economy bloc du jour

    Africa seems to be the happenin' place at the moment, what with major IT companies eyeing the continent and even suggesting that certain employees might like to relocate there. (Where exactly, I'm not even sure the companies know yet. Africa is bigger than you can even think you can imagine.)

    Now Zucks says he's doing it "for the poor"? Yes, of course we believe you, Mark. A lot of idiotic liberal twats are going to fall for it though. "The stupid, like German tourists, are everywhere."

  8. what handle ?

    Don't forget to give them food and water along with that free Iphone.. Otherwise facebook will be pointless.

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Facebook? Africa?

    So even though there's large swaths of basically un-inhabited land, vast amounts of folks barely surviving, and many more not, lots of fundamental religious types wrecking havoc on each other and innocent bystanders, he wants to do what? oh yeah... give them Facebook. Is Swahili or any of the other 1000 languages in Africa covered by the wonderful Bing Translator FB uses? Can the proposed target audience even read and write? And a minor thing... electric power to run the equipment the audience would need? I'm sure there's whole villages that will be grateful to Mr. Z for having the access to his domain instead of food, water, shelter, and peace. <rant off>

    Someone's priorities are really in a dark orifice with their brain.

  10. Chris G Silver badge


    See above

  11. tony2heads

    saturation coverage

    There are large areas of semi-desert that are wanted for the SKA radio telescope array project where we DO NOT WANT drones saturating our receivers.

    It sounds similar to the Afristar concept where the majority of the intended audience could not afford the receivers and did not particularly want the product. Those who can afford it picked up satellite TV, like DSTV (I see their dishes even on some shacks).

  12. deadlockvictim

    Invasive, pervasive, intrusive

    Hi everyone,

    We're not as pervasive as we'd like to be nor as intrusive as we could be and we want to show the NSA how Total Knowledge really works.

    If the experiment works well in Africa, and let's face it, no one there is really going to complain, then we can move to Europe, Japan and the States.

    with love,


  13. Elmer Phud
    Thumb Up

    Go for it Zuck!

    Well, why not?

    Do I hear protests from those who have sucked on the teat of Google?

    Do I hear moans from the hordes of Google+ users?

    Is it the Twittersphere that is grumbling?

    I actually have more faith in Zuckerberg than the appalling shit showman called Branson.

    At least Zuck isn't trying to flogg off an expensive fairground ride as 'going in to space' -- the idea of chucking things up there to give people web access is far better than the continuous adverts from Branson.

    It gets a thumbs up as at least he might be looking at doing a Gates -- hated for his product loved by others for his charity.

  14. tojb

    This may actually be a good idea

    Comms infrastructure in Africa is seriously bedevilled by cable theft. Unless you think its possible to get everyone on the continent up to a standard of living where 1km of copper wire is no longer a desparately-needed meal ticket, then some kind of up-high platform (be it satellite, drones or whatev) seems like a good solution. Fortunes have already been made by providing mobile voice coverage to some regions of the continent, larger fortunes remain to be made.

    Mobile base-stations with an integral power source and someone guarding them are an option, but sooner or later the guard will be intimidated or take a bribe. Seriously, in Congo or even SA being nailed down is no deterrent to theft. Put it out of reach.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: This may actually be a good idea

      "Mobile base-stations with an integral power source and someone guarding them are an option, but sooner or later the guard will be intimidated or take a bribe. Seriously, in Congo or even SA being nailed down is no deterrent to theft. Put it out of reach."

      Technically perhaps.

      It's every other aspect of the concept that people are sceptical about.

  15. Mpeler
    Black Helicopters

    This cannot end well, unless it just ends

    Reminds me of the old FM radio station (KABL) slogan:

    "In the air, everywhere".

    This cannot end well, unless it just ends.

    "....look, I know you're starving, thirsty, ill/diseased, war-scarred, etc., etc., but this free phone will make everything all right....."

    Anybody (Zuk, for example) asked the folks in Africa what THEY want? Didn't think so.....

    1. DropBear

      Re: This cannot end well, unless it just ends

      "Anybody (Zuk, for example) asked the folks in Africa what THEY want? Didn't think so....." - of course not, that's pointless - they'd just ask for a better horse, innit...?

  16. Faye B

    Big and Shiny

    Why do these rich biz kids always have to go for the big , shiny and hugely expensive solutions to solve 3rd world problems. Most of Africa doesn't need BB coverage, just the towns and villages in areas that has access to electricity. It would be simpler and cheaper to have small drones flying at say 200 ft with wifi connectivity such that they form a peer to peer network (think of it as a flying internet). Each little drone would provide coverage for say up to twenty connections (a bit like a mobile telephone mast does) and the density of the drones would match the density of the population. With redundancy and gap filling it should be easy to set up a tailored network much more cheaply than building huge, technically difficult, mega-stations pumping out unwanted radiation. Or isn't that solution shiny enough for Zuk's ego.

    It's a bit like the power companies insisting that only huge and expensive centralised power stations can be used to supply power to homes and businesses, when what they really mean is that it allows them to control the price of the supply and ensure big profits.

  17. simon_brooke

    It shouldn't actually need batteries

    If it can ascend under solar power during daylight - and in Africa, near the equator, above the clouds, there's lots of daylight - it can then maintain airspeed by gliding down at night. What it can't do at night without batteries is relay telecoms signals, but having working internet connectivity during daylight only would be a heck of a lot better than not having it at all.

    So I guess the batteries are mainly for hours-of-darkness communications, but when they die, the thing won't be useless.

    Oh, and, the idea that all of Africa is a basket case is just nonsense. Africa already has more mobile phone users than either the US or the EU (648 million in 2011 and rising sharply). OK, there may not be many of the latest smartphones... but 1.03 billion people is still a big market, even if most of them are poor.


    Great idea but nothing new!

    I think it is great that Facebook is publicly talking about this idea, but it is nothing knew. 5 years ago I was looking at this concept with a Ugandan company who also had philanthropic ideas to bring the internet to Africa. At the time we could not get funding and the solar technology was not quite right. However there were alternatives. Blimps and even manned aircraft (which were dual use) were considered. Sadly the Ugandan government and African Banks pulled out of funding the projects but the concept was great.

    I really hope somebody like Marc can pull this off - but the solution doesn't have to be a crazy one. Their are many good mixed solutions that could solve this problem - the problem is money not technology!

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