Skip to main content

Facebook talks connectivity through drones, helicopters at F8 2017

facebook messenger news f8 2017 topic feature
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Facebook wants to connect the billions of people in the world who lack an internet connection, and it’s launching a volley of solutions at the problem. At the F8 developer summit on Tuesday, Facebook provided updates on its Aquila drone project, its Tenna-tether portable antenna, and its Terragraph node system.

With its Acquila drones, Facebook said it set a record with millimeter-wave radio, the technology it’s using to beam internet from the stratosphere to terrestrial microwave dishes. Engineers achieved a speed of 36Gbps from a distance of more than 10km, about double last year’s maximum speed of 20Gbps (and fast enough to stream 4,000 Ultra HD (4K) movies simultaneously).

Aquila still has a ways to go — Facebook hasn’t tested the improved millimeter-wave technology on one of its drones yet, instead opting to use a Cessna aircraft circling about four miles away. But it believes that airborne millimeter-wave radio has potential. “The ground-to-air record modeled, for the first time, a real-life test of how this technology will be used,” Yael Maguire, a director for Facebook’s connectivity program, wrote in a blog entry posted during the keynote presentation.

Facebook is also developing a short-term connectivity solution for emergencies: “Tether-tenna.” The nascent project consists of a Volkswagen Beetle-sized helicopter and flexible antenna that can be “deployed immediately and operate for months at a time.” It’s in the early stages, but Maguire said the Tether-tenna will eventually be able to tap into a fiber line, plug into an electrical source, and then rise hundreds of feet in the air to broadcast a signal.

The challenges are myriad, Maguire said. Tether-tenna prototypes have only been able to operate up to 24 hours continuously, and they need to be able to survive high winds and lightning.

A more permanent solution is Terragraph, Facebook’s effort to replace fiber connections in “dense urban areas.” Speaking onstage at the F8 conference, Facebook vice president Jay Parikh described it as a “multi-node wireless system focused on bringing high-speed connectivity” to cities.

Terragraph, like Aquila, relies on open wireless standards to beam millimeter radio waves between wireless nodes. But unlike Acquila, the transmitters are mounted on telephone poles and Ethernet or Wi-Fi hubs mounted on the exteriors of buildings. Facebook said a single distribution node currently maxes out at 2.1Gbps, but that it expects speeds to improve as testing continues.

It’s not perfect. Millimeter wave signals are prone to interference from water, and can’t travel through walls or windows. But ARIES, a new antenna design from Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, will help mitigate the issues. It’s single-base station is capable of eliminating noise and supporting as many as 24 different devices on the same spectrum, Facebook said.

“Slow internet speed is especially prevalent in developing economies where mobile networks are often unable to achieve data rates better than 2G” Facebook explained in a blog post. “Developed economies are hampered by Wi-Fi and LTE infrastructure that is unable to keep up with the exponential consumption of photos and video at higher and higher resolutions.”

Editors' Recommendations

Kyle Wiggers
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kyle Wiggers is a writer, Web designer, and podcaster with an acute interest in all things tech. When not reviewing gadgets…
How to create multiple profiles on a Facebook account
A series of social media app icons on a colorful smartphone screen.

Facebook (and, by extension, Meta) are particular in the way that they allow users to create accounts and interact with their platform. Being the opposite of the typical anonymous service, Facebook sticks to the rule of one account per one person. However, Facebook allows its users to create multiple profiles that are all linked to one main Facebook account.

In much the same way as Japanese philosophy tells us we have three faces — one to show the world, one to show family, and one to show no one but ourselves — these profiles allow us to put a different 'face' out to different aspects or hobbies. One profile can keep tabs on your friends, while another goes hardcore into networking and selling tech on Facebook Marketplace.

Read more
How to set your Facebook Feed to show most recent posts
A smartphone with the Facebook app icon on it all on a white marble background.

Facebook's Feed is designed to recommend content you'd most likely want to see, and it's based on your Facebook activity, your connections, and the level of engagement a given post receives.

But sometimes you just want to see the latest Facebook posts. If that's you, it's important to know that you're not just stuck with Facebook's Feed algorithm. Sorting your Facebook Feed to show the most recent posts is a simple process:

Read more
How to go live on TikTok (and can you with under 1,000 followers?)
Tik Tok

It only takes a few steps to go live on TikTok and broadcast yourself to the world:

Touch the + button at the bottom of the screen.
Press the Live option under the record button.
Come up with a title for your live stream. 
Click Go Live to begin.

Read more