Sunday, July 24, 2016

As Facebook and Others Build and Internet in the Sky

  • Last week, Facebook's Global Head of Engineering and Infrastructure Jay Parikh announced “the first full-scale test flight of Aquila, our high-altitude unmanned aircraft. Aquila is a solar-powered airplane that can be used to bring affordable internet to hundreds of millions of people in the hardest-to-reach places. When complete, Aquila will be able to circle a region up to 60 miles in diameter, beaming connectivity down from an altitude of more than 60,000 feet using laser communications and millimeter wave systems. Aquila is designed to be hyper efficient, so it can fly for up to three months at a time. The aircraft has the wingspan of an airliner, but at cruising speed it will consume only 5,000 watts — the same amount as three hair dryers, or a high-end microwave."
  • "This first functional check was a low-altitude flight, and it was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes — three times longer than originally planned … In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet."
  • Note: The test flight took place over Yuma, Arizona.

MY TAKE
  • Facebook’s project is ambitious and will require more work and innovation – including providing solar power support for the aircraft (the test was powered by lithium batteries), achieving flight at 60,000 feet (the test was conducted at about 2,000 feet) and adding equipment to provide internet communication.
  • At the same time, Google’s Project Loon is exploring how to float balloons over 10 miles high to create a communication network that will connect with telecommunication service providers to increase Internet coverage. In addition, organizations such as OneWeb Satellites (backed by Airbus GroupQualcommVirgin Group and Bharti Enterprises), Elon Musk’s SpaceXBoeingDish Network and others are pursuing Internet strategies using various satellite technologies.
  • Bottom line: Many of these efforts are unproven and will have to be competitive with land-based Internet services. from a cost and performance perspective.

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