Will Facebook be an Internet Service Provider in 21 Countries by 2018 or 2020?

Facebook believes it will be able to provide Internet access to 21 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia sometime as soon as 2018 to 2020. Whether Facebook would do so on its own, or perhaps in partnership of some sort with other entities is not yet clear.


But Facebook “becoming an Internet service provider” might be as disruptive for Internet service providers in those 21 countries as Google Fiber has been in the United States.


Facebook hopes to begin testing the first examples of solar-powered aircraft (drones) for Internet access in 2015, over U.S. territory.


Facebook also believes the commercial deployment of such unmanned aircraft to provide Internet access would not occur until three to five years after the completion of successful tests, according to Facebook Connectivity Lab Engineering Director Yael Maguire.


As currently envisioned, such aircraft would fly at altitudes up to 90,000 feet. Maguire claims there are currently no regulatory issues for planes flying above 60,000 feet that would prevent using such a platform to provide Internet access in Asia, Africa and Latin America.


Such planes would have huge wingspans comparable to that of a Boeing 747 jet.


Facebook almost certainly will face competition from Google.


Separately, Google acquired Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of jet-sized drones that are intended to fly nonstop for years. Google said the technology could be used to collect images and offer online access to remote areas.


Once in the air, the drones would fly unmanned for several months at a time. Some immediately will ask how will Facebook's network will work. After all, a moving aircraft flying near 90,000 feet will effectively be a platform operating much as a satellite or ground-based cell tower would, in many respects.

So Facebook might look at drones as a backhaul mechanism, with ground stations that retransmit Wi-Fi signals to standard smartphones able to use Wi-Fi. The other alternative, more complicated, would require use of special phones able to receive signals directly from an airborne transmitter.

Some might suggest that is rather too expensive for mass adoption in the markets Facebook is targeting.

None of that is as potentially shocking as is the sheer idea that Facebook could be joining the ranks of Internet service providers.
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