Skip to main content

Facebook talks connectivity through drones, helicopters at F8 2017

facebook messenger news f8 2017 topic feature
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).

Related Videos

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

Facebook F8 2018 Keynote recap: Everything Zuckerberg and co. announced
how to watch facebook f8 2018 f1

The 2018 Facebook F8 developers conference is officially underway. Although the conference is meant primarily for developers, the keynote often gives us a good idea of what to expect from Facebook, Instagram, and other subsidiaries.

Here's everything we learned from the Facebook F8 Keynote address.
Clear History
Not unexpectedly, privacy played a key role in this year's keynote. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg opened the conference addressing the issue head-on. Shortly before the start of keynote, Zuckerberg announced a new feature called Clear History.

Read more
Facebook F8 attendees will reportedly receive the Oculus Go
Oculus Go

Facebook's F8 developer conference starts Tuesday, May 1, and it's a safe bet we'll get pertinent details about the release of Oculus Go, the midrange virtual reality headset that was originally supposed to launch earlier in 2018. Although a release date hasn't been announced, the stand-alone VR headset could be on shelves very soon and in the hands of F8 attendees even sooner.

Marco Antonio Liu, the co-founder of HappinssVR, snapped a picture in the lead-up to F8 that suggests attendees will receive an Oculus Go for free on Wednesday, May 2, the final day of F8, Road to VR reports.

Read more
Everything you need to know about Facebook Messenger’s M assistant
Facebook's M assistant can now suggest movies thanks to Fandango
Facebook Messenger M Assistant

Notice a little "M" logo near the textbox in Facebook Messenger? It's the social media network's artificially intelligent assistant that's meant to offer suggestions in your conversations -- similar to how Google Assistant can jump in to help in conversations via Allo. With the assistant officially rolled out across the U.S., it is now available in both English and Spanish to all Messenger users in the country.

M is now able to provide suggestions in Spanish -- like sending payments or sharing your location -- and the feature is gradually rolling out in Mexico for iOS and Android, Facebook told Digital Trends. If you'd like to receive M Suggestions in Spanish, you can change the preferred language to Spanish.

Read more