Facebook fixates on connecting the next billion

Facebook's Mobile World Congress agenda is all about getting the internet into the developing world.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Facebook's Terragraph tech.


Facebook has renewed its commitment to bringing another next billion people online, announcing Monday at Mobile World Congress a raft of commitments designed to make internet cheaper and easier to access across the world.

The company is working with partners worldwide to upgrade existing data networks, build new networks and take advantage of new tech tools designed to get more people onto the internet.

Nearly 50 percent of the world's population is expected to be online by the end of this year, a huge milestone in internet connectivity. But that will still leave half the world living without internet. Facebook wants to bring those people online. They're all potential Facebook users, after all. But doing so requires Facebook to work with many companies and create multiple ways to tackle problems such as network coverage and affordability.

"It takes a really big, comprehensive approach to this," Jay Parikh, Facebook's head of engineering and infrastructure, said at MWC in Barcelona. "There isn't one solution that can solve connectivity for everyone around the world."

Parikh shared a stage with representatives of some of Facebook's network partners.

The social network doesn't have a big, obvious presence at this year's trade show like other tech players such as Samsung and Sony. Instead it has a small, private space within the convention center.

Tucked away down a long passage away from the main hall, the enclave is decked out in pastels and pale wood and is intersected by a refreshments area referred to as "the spine." Try to step in or out of the spine without permission and you'll be quickly guided back into place by one of many burly security guards.


Inside "the spine."

Katie Collins/CNET

Surely it can't be a coincidence that Facebook's main business at the show is in reinforcing the backbone of the internet.

In years past, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was a major presence at the show, taking the main Monday night keynote slot on the conference schedule. He used it to update the world on the company's connectivity projects, such as internet.org, Free Basics and its Aquila drone.

But even without Zuckerberg present this year, affordable internet is still very much Facebook's focus for the show.

The company announced together with Telefonica on Monday that it has connected 20,000 people in Peru to the internet. Meanwhile, its Terragraph tech, which uses high-frequency radio waves to speed up networks where populations are dense, is also ready to be deployed in trials, the company said.

"By working together as a community, we believe we can help operators build more robust and flexible networks necessary to meet new technology challenges and unlock new ways of connecting people," said Parikh.

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