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Facebook grounds ambitious plans to build internet-beaming drones

The massive high-altitude aircraft would have delivered broadband internet to remote areas.

facebook-aquila-drone

Facebook is scrapping plans to build a drone called Aquila, a solar-powered aircraft with a wingspan of a Boeing 737.

Facebook

Facebook has abandoned plans to build its own massive, high-altitude drones to beam broadband internet to all corners of the globe.

Facebook's plan was to use a drone called Aquila – a solar-powered aircraft with a wingspan of a Boeing 737 – to beam internet connections to remote areas of the globe via high-frequency radio signals. The drone was part of the company's larger efforts to boost broadband coverage to remote areas without traditional infrastructure.

"We've decided now is the right moment to focus on the next set of engineering and regulatory challenges for HAPS [high-altitude platform] connectivity," Yael Maguire, Facebook's director of engineering, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. "This means we will no longer design and build our own aircraft, and, as a result, we've closed our facility in Bridgewater."

Designed to stay aloft above 60,000 feet for 90 days at a time, the Aquila drone was part of a large-scale effort by Facebook to bring internet access to the 3.8 billion people around the world who don't have it. But the company's efforts in that regard have had setbacks. In 2016, a satellite designed to bring internet access to parts of Africa courtesy of Facebook was destroyed when the SpaceX Falcon 9 that was supposed to carry it into space exploded at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

While Facebook is dropping plans to build its own internet drones, it's not abandoning its global broadband ambitions. The company said it's still working with partners such as Airbus on HAPS connectivity technologies that control computers and high-density batteries.

Facebook said last year it had set a record with millimeter-wave radio, the technology the company planned to use on Aquila to transmit data. Facebook said it had effectively quadrupled the download speeds, allowing 4,000 ultra-HD videos to be streamed at the same time.

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