NEW DELHI: Facebook has started initial talks with Indian telecom companies and the government for potential pilot programmes to use its solar-powered plane called Aquila to provide the infrastructure needed to offer affordable mobile internet access in remote areas.
The world’s largest social network has already started to tie up with telcos for its Express Wi-Fi project to provide broadband services in rural parts, Robert Pepper, Facebook’s Connectivity Public Policy Director, told ET.
“Having fibre-like speeds in places without fibre and making it available to anybody is the reason why there’s so much interest in Aquila. We have begun discussions with telecom operators to see which ones might be interested,” Pepper said.
“There is a huge amount of interest, but it is very early stages.” Telcos that don’t find it feasible to create the infrastructure for internet services in rural areas – given the lack of demand – can use Facebook’s Aquila as a platform to deliver mobile broadband. Once such a service generates adequate demand, the operators could build their own infrastructure and the Aquila planes can be moved to another location.
Facebook tested its first Aquila over Yuma, Arizona, in June. Pepper said that with Aquila, a solar-powered airplane with a wingspan of 141-feet – wider than a Boeing 737 – Facebook aims to lower the cost of providing internet.
Each plane can remain in the air for up to 90 days at a time, beaming internet signals to people within a 96-km diameter. Aquila could be used to provide internet in areas where the national optical fibre network (NOFN), renamed Bharat Net, hasn’t reached, he said.
“Whenever NOFN comes to those places, you can move Aquila to some other place. It’s not any cost. It’s part of the design. If it’s successful over time you would no longer need it because it creates demand which will be enough to bring the fibre,” he added.