Facebook brings high-speed wireless data links to Silicon Valley, overseas

As it tries to bring more people around the world online, Facebook is using AI to figure out the best places to install radio network links, it says at its F8 conference.

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Facebook is using artificial intelligence technology to analyze cities and figure out where to place wireless network equipment.

Facebook is using artificial intelligence technology to analyze cities and figure out where to place wireless network equipment.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Facebook is using AI smarts to figure out the best way to bathe Silicon Valley with high-speed wireless data links that ultimately could deliver those emails, photos, videos and social network posts faster.

At its F8 developer conference Wednesday, Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said the company is working with the city of San Jose to design a network of wireless data "backhaul" links. That's the network that connects the mobile network radio stations to the rest of your internet so they can then deliver data to and from your phone.

Watch this: Facebook building high-speed wireless data links for global connectivity

It's part of the company's effort to bring internet access to the 3.8 billion people around the world who don't have it today, Schroepfer said. That effort could help a lot of people, but of course it could help Facebook, too, as it saturates better developed markets like the United States and Europe.

Facebook's approach uses high-frequency 60GHz radio frequency spectrum that can transfer a lot of data but that can't handle long-range transmissions. So you need a lot of radio stations to shuttle the data around.

Instead of figuring out placement manually, Facebook uses an artificial intelligence system to analyze city buildings and streets to figure out the best locations for good data pathways at "a fraction of cost and a fraction of the time" it would take humans, Schroepfer said.

Facebook is working on the technology in a trial for San Jose and plans further work in Hungary and Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, Schroepfer said.

Facebook also is working on a massive high-altitude drone called Aquila that's designed to beam internet access to people below. Aquila also uses high-frequency radio signals, an approach that brings technical challenges but that sidesteps problems with limited or expensive access to easier-to-use lower frequencies.

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