Facebook is continuing its initiative to develop hardware that beams down high-speed internet, though its moving the effort to space. According to documents obtained by Wired through Freedom of Information Act requests, the social network is working on an internet satellite that would “efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world,” according to an application filed with the FCC under the name PointView Tech LLC. Facebook has confirmed to Wired that it is indeed the company behind the application, and that the working title for the satellite is Athena.
This news comes just weeks after Facebook announced a shutdown of its internet drone efforts under the Aquila project. The company said it would no longer develop its own autonomous high-flying drones, which were partly powered by solar energy and designed to fly for long periods of time and beam internet to remote parts of Earth and underserved developing countries.
Instead, Facebook said Aquila would focus its efforts on developing the onboard software systems that guide internet aircraft. Google parent company Alphabet did the same in January of last year, shutting down its solar-powered drone project in favor of its air balloon Wi-Fi initiative Project Loon and strategic investments in third-party satellite internet companies.
Now, it sounds like Facebook will continue to try and develop its own hardware, just a different variety this time. According to a September 2017 report on broadband development, more than half of Earth is still not online, and that the only way to do so would be to use low Earth orbit satellites that sit in space about 100 to 1,250 miles above the surface. There’s already a booming industry around satellite internet, with key players like SpaceX investing heavily in the space to become the new internet service providers of an untapped market. SpaceX launched its first satellites back in February.
“While we have nothing to share about specific projects at this time, we believe satellite technology will be an important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure, making it possible to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent,” a Facebook spokesperson told Wired in a statement.
For Facebook, being the internet provider for all-new markets around the globe raises the possibility that those new internet users will become members of its social network, which in turn expands its global reach and further solidifies its online advertising empire.