A relatively new player in the connectivity game, Facebook, has had some success with it Aquila project. The first full-scale test flight of Aquila, its high-altitude unmanned aircraft, was a success.
The solar-powered airplane, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs hundreds of times less, will now be scheduled for a lengthy series of tests in the coming months and year to find out exactly what its limits are.
The Aquila concept, is supposed to be a fleet of airplanes acting as APs within a 60-mile communications diameter for up to 90 consecutive days. It will use the E-band, likely the 71 -76 GHz band and run on solar power during the day and battery power at night. It is designed to fly between 60,000 and 90,000 feet, which is higher than commercial aircraft and above most weather.
The idea is to have a series of drones that will be deployed as a fleet of autonomous aircraft capable of delivering Internet connectivity, if the project ever gets real traction, and will use a free space laser as the link to communicate between it and receivers on the ground. Supposedly, the design team has already developed and lab-tested a laser that can deliver data at tens of gigabits per second, or about 10x faster than the previous state-of-the-art, to a target the size of a dime more than 10 miles away.
At this stage of the game, it is still more of a lofty concept that a plan. For example, the current world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, is only two weeks. To make it three months, and reliable, is something Facebook hasn’t figured out yet, and likely won’t for some time, if at all. Seems Facebook is tired of just being an app and want to be a utility, like Mobilitie. It figures that the more people are on the Internet, the more likely they are to be on Facebook, as well.
And, of course, there is the regulatory spider web. These planes will have similar obstacles as does Google’s Project Loon. And don’t expect the current satellite operators to stand idly by, either.