The Stack Archive

Facebook developing radio wave mesh to connect offline areas

Wed 10 Feb 2016

As part of its wider Internet.org initiative to deliver connectivity to poor and rural communities, Facebook is actively developing a new network technology which uses millimetre wave bands to transmit data.

The project is similar to, and has potential to conflict with, that of Chaitanya Kanojia, former CEO of Aereo, whose new company Starry is looking at boosting internet speeds through thin air rather than using traditional wired infrastructure.

According to reports, Facebook engineer Sanjai Kohli has filed two patents which outline a ‘next generation’ data system, which would make use of millimetre wave technology deployed as mesh networks. A Facebook representative also confirmed that the work is ‘part of the Connectivity Lab which supports the mission of Internet.org — to connect the four billion people who don’t have internet access.’

Kohli’s patents detailed a type of centralised, cloud-based routing system which ‘dynamically adjusts route and frequency channel assignments, transmit power, modulation, coding, and symbol rate to maximize network capacity and probability of packet delivery, rather than trying to maximize the capacity of any one link.’

The social media site has been dedicated to finding new ways to connect more remote locations and low-income populations to the internet, and ultimately its platform. These efforts have included experimenting with drone-mounted lasers and existing satellite technology to deliver internet to communities in Africa.

Having been granted only one of the patents, it is unclear whether Facebook’s millimetre wave technology will ever come into fruition. The research may soon be another area to spur the controversy over the social network’s Internet.org and Free Basics plans, and arguments surrounding the global net neutrality debate.

Earlier this week, Facebook was dealt a significant blow by Indian telecom regulator TRAI. The watchdog voted against differential pricing for data tariffs, scuppering its Free Basics project which sought to provide a free range of internet services to India’s poor.

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