Facebook just showed off two new plans to bring Internet access to the world

Facebook’s ultimate goal is to “give anyone the power to share anything they want with anyone else,” and a big part of that mission is bringing internet access to the whole world.

The company is tackling that challenge through its Connectivity Lab, which has launched projects like Aquila, a solar-powered internet plane, and the Telecom Infra Project, an ambitious scheme to redesign telecoms infrastructure.

Today, at its F8 developers conference, the company introduced two new efforts: Terragraph and Aries.

Terragraph: a wireless system that’s cheaper than fibre

As people use more bandwidth to consume high-resolution photos and videos, traditional infrastructure can’t keep up.

While optical fibre, like what Google’s installing in certain cities around the US, can provide a super-fast solution, it’s expensive to install. Facebook believes ubiquitous gigabit citywide coverage is “unachievable and unaffordable for almost all countries.”

Enter Terragraph, an experimental wireless system Facebook is testing in its California headquarters, which Facebook says can deliver gigabit speeds to dense urban areas at a fraction of the cost of fibre.

With this system, small 60GHz boxes (“nodes”) would be installed around a city as internet access points:

“We are going to work on making this technology open and interoperable via unlicensed spectrum, just like WiFi itself,” the company says. “We hope to allow new types of high bandwidth networks and business models for their deployments to be developed.”

Here’s a closer look at one of the nodes:

ARIES: An experimental way to make radio spectrum more efficient

Facebook has also built a test platform called ARIES (Antenna Radio Integration for Efficiency in Spectrum) that would make radio towers in rural areas more efficient. It would help areas with slow mobile networks (think 2G data rates) get faster without licensing more radio frequency spectrum or installing more base stations.

Facebook says that ARIES lets almost 10x as many people access a single tower at once, compared with current 4G/LTE technology, and offers greater range as well.

Right now, Facebook has just built a proof-of-concept, but it wants to make this technology open to the wireless communications research and academic community so they can improve it and make it real.

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