What's to come: Facebook target India from sky

Facebook's Yael Maguire talks about his company’s plan to increase internet penetration in countries like India through latest technologies

Photo Caption: Internet from Sky Via Planes

In conversation with Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore at the Social Good Summit 2014, Yael Maguire, engineering director at Facebook Connectivity Lab said the team is focused on developing countries

Maguire cited India as an example, where more than 15% of people don't have any connectivity whatsoever. They've identified a set of about 21 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Maguire doesn't like to use the word "drones" when it comes to "beaming" Internet to the developing world. He prefers "planes."

"Unmanned planes that have to fly for months, or perhaps years. We actually have to fly above the weather, above all airspace," Maguire said. "That's between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. Routinely, planes don't fly there, and certainly not drones."

Beyond altitude constraints, the planes have to be solar-powered, since there's no fuel that can allow the planes to fly for such long periods of time.

The size of the planes will be "roughly the size of a commercial aircraft, like a 747," but they have to be much lighter. One of the plane models the lab is working on is the length of "about six or seven Priuses, but is the weight of four of the tires of a Prius," Maguire said.

The team is focused on developing countries, prioritizing the number of people who are not connected.

"We're taking on a whole bunch of technical risk, but we're also taking on whole bunch of regulatory risk, because there are no rules about flying planes outside of 60,000 feet and above. There are no rules about beaming signals down to people in those environments," Maguire said.

One of the biggest questions is how to actually fly these planes, and creating a mechanism that can solve that which adheres to regulations as well. Right now, there's a 'one pilot per plane' rule, but Maguire said they need a regulatory environment that's open to one pilot managing up to 100 of these solar-powered planes.

Maguire knows it's going to be difficult. "We have to push the edge of battery technology, of solar technology, of composite technology ... There are a whole bunch of challenges that our team is super excited to work on."

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