Inside Facebook's plan to bring Internet to the world

Facebook is on a mission to bring internet to the world. The company stands to make a lot of money by connecting the four billion offline people around the globe.

This summer, the social networking giant made
two breakthroughs in its plan: prototyping a solar-powered, internet-delivering aircraft, as well as a lab-tested laser that can transmit data from that aircraft at 10 gigabits per second. Together, the two could offer wireless internet to even the most isolated regions.

Facebook also recently announced a deal with French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications that will use satellites to beam internet across 14 countries in Africa.

Facebook’s progress earned it a spot on our recent list of the most exciting innovations of the year. Let’s take a closer look at its ground-breaking tech.

When Facebook first set out to bring internet to the world, the team took a hard look at cell towers and other existing infrastructure and decided they wouldn't work.

Facebook

Yael Maguire, engineering director at Facebook, tells Tech Insider that Facebook started the Connectivity Lab to design systems from scratch. '(We're) developing a new range of technologies to help accelerate the process of bringing connectivity to the unserved and underserved,' he says.

Facebook

Facebook's solar-powered, internet-delivering aircraft -- named Aquila -- is one of its most promising new solutions.

Facebook Connectivity Labs

It uses state-of-the-art laser technology to beam internet to the ground -- 'making it possible to reach the remotest regions of the world,' Macguire says.

Facebook

Their biggest challenge was designing an aircraft that could maintain flight for long stretches of time.

Facebook

Aquila has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 and one-third the weight of an electric car.

Facebook

Its carbon-fibre frame is stronger than steel and light as aluminium.

Facebook Developers/YouTube

Aquila can, hypothetically, fly for 90 days straight. (The longest known flight of a craft like Aquila, according to Facebook, lasted just 14 days.)

Facebook Developers/YouTube

It flies above commercial air traffic and weather patterns, but below satellites.

Facebook

Here's how it works: A ground station transmits a radio-internet signal to a 'mother aircraft,' which flies anywhere between 60,000 and 90,000 feet off the ground.

Facebook

The mother aircraft then feeds the signal to other planes via lasers, capable of delivering data at tens of gigabytes per second.

Facebook Developers/YouTube

The team leveraged technologies developed for Facebook's data centres and traditional fibre-optic communications, in order to create these lasers.

Facebook

They can reach a target the size of a dime from more than 10 miles away.

Facebook

Aquila beams connectivity to the ground, where small towers and dishes convert the signal into a Wi-Fi or LTW network that people can connect to using their devices.

Facebook Developers/YouTube

Macguire says test flights for the full-scale model should begin later this year.

Facebook Developers/YouTube

The Connectivity Lab plans to target Aquila in communities among the 10% of the world's population with no access to internet infrastructure.

John Moore/Getty Images

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