Social media giant Facebook is interested in testing internet services through solar-powered plane in India and other telecom connectivity technologies it is developing.
“We are really in development of technologies at connectivity lab. We are not yet launching any pilots. We will in the future, and we are entirely open to launching it in India because there is such a great opportunity in India to connect the unconnected,” Facebook Vice President of Internet.org Chris Daniels said.
He said the company is working on alternate internet technologies other than traditional ways of providing connectivity including solar planes and satellites.
“The reason why planes are interesting is that you can have solar powered planes that stay very high in the sky and provide connectivity. Plane can have broad area. That plane can be fuelled by the sun, does not need to have generator or physical infrastructure on the ground. That’s potentially an attractive way through which we can provide connectivity,” he said.
Facebook expects technologies to bring down the cost of internet significantly.
Web-based companies including Facebook that provide messenger and internet-based calling service have been at loggerheads with telecom operator as it is cutting in to their revenues.
Facebook is now attempting to make truce with telecom operators through its programme internet.org. Under this, it in partnership with telecom operators is providing free access to some basic websites to customers.
In India, Facebook launched internet.org with Reliance Communications.
“Internet.org is a customer acquisition tool. There is a 40 per cent increase in data customers for operators who have turned on internet.org. The fundamental thing that we can do to help operators is to bring them more paying customers. That’s the model which supports their business model and network roll out,” Daniel said.
Telecom operators have been demanding that there should be revenue sharing model between web-based companies providing messaging and calling services as they invest massively on building network to provide connectivity to the people.
Daniel said such demand does not “make sense at higher level. People are paying for data when they find value in internet. We are trying to help them find value in internet.”
The internet.org platform includes Facebook messenger but the social media firm has turned off VoIP or internet-based calling function due to concerns raised by telecom operators.
“Taking into consideration business model concerns that operators have around VoIP, it is not a free basic service which we have chosen with them (operators) to include in Internet.org,” Daniel said.
Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Daniels both praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for use of internet.
“In India, it’s interesting to see how Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi used internet as a campaigning tool,” Zuckerberg said.
Daniel said that Facebook is inspired by hearing “Prime Minister Modi’s Digital India initiative. I think government in India has done a really fantastic thing in embracing connectivity as one of the key pillars.”
He further said: “There are things that we can do to collaborate with Indian government is providing e-government services through internet.org and we have already begun to that with Andhra Pradesh.”
Facebook has second largest user base in India after the US. By the end of September 2014, Facebook had monthly active user base of about 112 million and 52 million daily active users.
Globally, the company has 1.35 billion users, while the daily active users are 864 million.