Facebook Is Fueling The Low-Cost Broadband War With Its Own Satellite, Athena!

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Like Internet? Good news! Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) has jumped into the low-cost internet providers bandwagon, and this time, it’s taking it out of the world – Literally!

As per a report by Wired, Facebook has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), dubbed as company name, PointView Tech in order to launch its satellite Athena in early 2019. According to the filing, the social-media behemoth embarks upon, with a goal to “efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world”.

With this, Facebook has quite suitably positioned itself in the ranks of Softbank-funded OneWeb and Elon Musk’s Starlink to set up a satellite-based low-cost broadband connectivity project.

“While we have nothing to share about specific projects at this time, we believe satellite technology will be an important enabler of the next generation of broadband infrastructure, making it possible to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent” – Facebook

Facebook And Internet-for-all Motto

The inception of Athena amidst bells-and-whistles comes only after a week of Facebook’s declaration to shut down its Aquila project – the drone initiative which aimed at providing Internet access.

Apart from trying hands on Facebook’s self-proclaimed, long-overdue commitment to “connect the world,” and bringing under-served parts of the globe online is a strategic part of Facebook’s business. Apparently, with the user-base of a whopping 2.2 billion, the company keeps brain-storming to find inventive ways to cater to new audiences.

Again, it looks like it’s not just Facebook! On Thursday, Google’s parent Alphabet’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Loon unit, which constructs balloons to deliver Internet to the hard-to-reach areas, made it public that it has signed its first commercial deal in Kenya. Reportedly, it will be working with Telkom Kenya to deliver 4G/LTE access to the African nation by 2019.

A Failed Brain-Child

While Facebook has long expressed its aim of connecting billions of under-served people globally, it has not had much success with two earlier projects.

This first satellite is probably on a trial basis, if not anything else. Facebook’s over-due visions, considering all of its previous attempts at these sorts of services not going well, makes this look like no cake-walk. For instance, in June, Facebook announced it’s decision to abandon its plan to develop high-flying solar-powered drones called Aquila which was supposed to be the godsend for nearly four billion people in remote areas of the world, who need Internet.

Traversing through the Project slate, it’s found that Facebook began Aquila project in 2014. This solar-powered drone successfully completed it’s second full-scale test flight in 2017. However, it was brought to a stand-still. Facebook said that since it started working on the Aquila drone in about 4 years ago, it faced numerous incumbents in the competition space. Apparently, a number of aerospace companies began testing high-altitude aircraft with similar visions. Given these proceedings, Yael Maguire, the Director of Engineering at Facebook claimed that, with such congestion in the vision spectrum, it will not design or develop aircraft any longer.

Scratching The “High-Altitude-Connectivity” Card

Facebook’s previous attempts at providing low-cost internet couldn’t enter the success stories of the Social-Media giant. Initiating with the 2013 project Internet.Org and the eventual successor, Free Basics, Facebook has till now collaborate with many service providers to offer free internet access. However, Net Neutrality proponents didn’t take in both the offerings on a positive note. They claimed that this created a “two-tiered” internet.

As of now, Athena represents a singular research project. However, if Facebook were to try building an entire network of satellites in the future, it should be prepared to face challenges; and this necessarily doesn’t only include incumbents. Take, for instance, Cost -lower orbit satellites necessitate networks of hundreds or thousands of satellites in order to be effective, which spirals up the expense.

Things being what they are now, it’ll be interesting to see if Facebook’s preferred way to bring internet to the world works well enough or not. Whatever may be the follow-up, this is definitely a kick-off.


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