Facebook has teamed up with Eutelsat, a French satellite company, to launch a satellite that will provide Internet access to the sub-Saharan African people. “I’m excited to announce our first project to deliver internet from space,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post.
First of its kind for Facebook
Eutelsat and Facebook are leasing the satellite from Spacecom, an Israeli company. The firms will share it for their individual services. The satellite will be launched in 2016 and will begin providing services in the second half of the year. Its services will be available in 14 countries in western, eastern and southern Africa. Eutelsat plans to expand its paid broadband connections in the region.
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Africa has the lowest level of broadband connectivity with only 2% of the population in Guinea, Somalia, Burundi and Eritrea having access to Internet, according to the United Nation’s State of Broadband report.
Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org said, “Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa.”
Part of Internet.org
Facebook’s using of the satellite to offer free Internet in rural areas is a part of its Internet.org initiative, under which it works to bring the “next billion” people around the world online with help from satellites, lasers and drones. People in almost 20 countries have already been connected under the initiative.
Despite having a noble aim, Facebook’s Internet.org has been criticized for limiting the services people can access though the free smartphone app. Currently, it offers free access to 60 services that include tools related to health and finance and Facebook. Recently the company renamed its app “Free Basics by Facebook” so as to differentiate it from other projects falling under the Internet.org umbrella.
Facebook is also building a custom drone to bring the Internet to the locations that are hard to reach and underserved. Several other companies are also making attempts to bring low-cost, low-bandwidth Internet to the world. Google is currently working on Project Loon, which makes use of hot high-altitude air balloons with the intent of providing Internet in rural and remote areas. These balloons are placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 32 km (20 miles) for creating an aerial wireless network that offers 3G-like speed.