Is Facebook on Verge of Becoming an ISP?

Is Facebook about to become an Internet service provider, as Google has done? It seems increasingly likely, though the actual operations would be under the auspices of the Internet.org initiative, according to the Telegraph.

As rumored, Internet.org could contrat with U.K.-headquartered satellite provider Avanti, which owns two broadband satellites positioned over Africa, plans to launch two more in the next three years to increase capacity and coverage.

Zuckerberg reportedly tried to entice mobile service providers to do so, but was rebuffed. And there lies a conundrum. Facebook has been open to partnerships with ISPs. But as with Google, Facebook does not appear to be willing to let partner opposition deter it from extending Internet access as widely as possible, as quickly as possible.

Facebook also has been looking at use of unmanned aircraft as a potential Internet access platform.

Avanti supplies spot beam Ka-band service to sub-Saharan Africa, using a “HYLAS” (“Highly Adaptable Satellite”) bird built by Orbital Sciences Corp. A second satellite extends coverage in Africa, and also reaches the Caucasus and the Middle East. A third satellite covering Africa is expected to be launched in 2015.

The HYLAS satellites feature use of spot beams that can provide extra capacity within the coverage area of the spot beams. The HYLAS 2 satellite, for example,  features 24 active Ka-band user beams and six gateway beams intended to be used by national service providers as a single uplink/downlink connection. The HYLAS 4 satellite supports 66 spot beams, with a total capacity across all beams of 28 GHz.

The use of spot beams allows the satellites to achieve high spectrum efficiencies and high data rates, at the cost of coverage. By limiting coverage, the satellites are able to reuse frequency, much as a mobile network does.

In some ways, Facebook and Google becoming Internet service providers is an ironic development. As traditional vertically-integrated telcos now have partly become suppliers of loosely-coupled Internet apps owned by third parties, Google and Facebook now are becoming suppliers of access and apps, with at least some elements of vertical integration.
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