Facebook has announced its plans to launch a satellite next year, to provide free internet in Africa. The company has partnered with French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications to offer high-speed internet connectivity to the continent. The satellite, called AMOS-6, is configured with high gain spot beams that will cover large parts of western, eastern and southern Africa. Facebook and Eutelsat have signed a multi-year agreement with global satellite company Spacecom for this venture. As per the agreement, Facebook and Eutelsat will utilise the entire broadband payload on the satellite. Both companies will also build a system that will comprise of satellite capacity, gateways and terminals.
In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg said, "Over the last year Facebook has been exploring ways to use aircraft and satellites to beam internet access down into communities from the sky. To connect people living in remote regions, traditional connectivity infrastructure is often difficult and inefficient, so we need to invent new technologies." He also added, "This is just one of the innovations we’re working on to achieve our mission with Internet.org. Connectivity changes lives and communities. We’re going to keep working to connect the entire world -- even if that means looking beyond our planet." He said that the company was working with local partners across Africa in order to help communities start accessing internet services through the AMOS-6 satellite.
This satellite system may represent one of the technology investments made to provide cost-effective Internet access to those living in remote, disconnected areas. Facebook is already planning to launch a solar-powered unmanned aircraft called Aquila, to provide internet connectivity. The aircraft is expected to stay airborne for 3 months at a stretch, and will fly at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet. Aquila will make use of lasers to send signals, and Facebook claims it will be able to send data at 10 Gigabits per second at a range of 10 miles.
Facebook is not the only company looking for ways to offer internet connectivity in remote regions. Google has plans to launch high-altitude balloons as part of its Project Loon. The balloons will carry the necessary equipment for internet services 20 km above the surface of the planet. Each balloon will provide connectivity to an area of roughly 40 km in diameter, using LTE technology. The balloons are expected to have a lifespan of about 100 days, after which it will safely descend back to Earth. Once a balloon will run its cycle out, a replacement unit will be launched.