Facebook’s alternative to Google’s balloon network idea is an intercommunicating network of fixed-wing drone aircraft with wingspans like Boeing 737’s that can fly three months at a time to provide wideband internet service to remote areas of the world.
That is a much longer flying time than has ever been achieved, but Facebook seems convinced that three-month flight durations are both achievable and practical.
Extremely Wide Bandwidth Back-Links
Of course, to provide wideband service for multiple Earth-based users, extremely wide bandwidth back-link paths will be needed between the drones to communicate all that traffic back and forth to a distant city or other place where there can be a wideband internet backbone connection can be established.
Facebook’s answer to that is to link the drone aircraft to each other via modulated laser light beams using technologies similar to those employed in fiber-optic cable communication systems.
However, whereas light follows bends in fiber optic cables, it travels in straight lines through air. All the fixed-wing drone aircraft will have to constantly keep moving through the air at relatively high speeds to stay airborne, so a constantly moving light emitting laser on each sending end will have to aim a narrow light beam with great accuracy at a tiny and constantly-moving light receiving sensor on each receiving end.
If the drones are spaced 10-miles (16 km) or so apart, it would be challenging to aim accurately enough to hit a small receiving target a few millimeters in diameter even both ends were stationary. So is Facebook being reasonable to think they can maintain solid back-link connections through multiple nodes with all the nodes constantly moving?
Even if it Works, Should it be Allowed?
Can large numbers of them be routinely landed safely by remote control or automatic systems over long periods of time or will they be crashing into homes, business buildings, farm land, power lines, lakes, rivers, and oceans; endangering both humans and wildlife; and polluting the environment with costly-to-remove wreckage?
Is this a reasonable idea or do you wonder what the folks over at Facebook have been smoking? (Update: It seems they may have finally sobered up!)