First, there was Google’s Loon, then Microsoft talked of white spaces and now, there is Facebook’s Aquila drone. The intent is to provide internet connectivity to the unconnected across the world quickly. According to a report in The Economic Times, Facebook is in talks with Indian telecom companies and the government to launch its solar-powered drone, Aquila, to provide internet connectivity deep inside India. That should help quickly connect 2.5 lakh gram panchayats that do not have access yet, despite BharatNet working on it for years. As of now, only a tenth of the targeted 1 lakh gram panchayats have been connected.
That’s where the V-shaped, carbon fibre-layered device with a wingspan of a Boeing 737, flying at an altitude of 18 kilometres—much above commercial air traffic—for three months at a time can help speed up connecting remote villages to Digital India. The challenge lies in having Aquila’s batteries power it for for 90 days. The advantage that it offers is that areas where it is too expensive to roll-out an optic fibre backbone or provide a cellular network can have internet access quickly. Once there is enough demand in a region for internet connectivity, Aquila can be flown to another destination. Launched using helium balloons, the drone is another element of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, which has been criticised for linking users to a walled garden version of the internet. However, despite the positives, much will depend on a host of issues including regulation. In April, companies like Cleartrip and NDTV withdrew support for Internet.org in India following a national backlash over net neutrality. That’s what Facebook needs to sort out first.