After picking up a little known messaging service called WhatsApp for the sum of $19 billion, it seems that Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, may be ready to pull out the old chequebook again, this time to buy a fleet of drones. The latest rumoured acquisition for the big blue social network is that of Titan Aerospace, a US based company who specialises in making solar powered drones that can stay in the air for up to five years without needing to land. The price being thrown around so far is around $60 million (around R650 million) or just over 0.3% of the price tag associated with the WhatsApp deal.
The obvious question that leaps to mind is, what will Zuck & Co. be using the fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for? To provide free internet to the world. (Of course or as we will now be creatively calling it in the office from now on Wi-Fli.)
It all forms part of the internet.org initiative which Zuckerberg announced last year that aims to connect the five billion plus individuals around the world who don’t have internet access. In his recent keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Zuckerberg said that he envisions Facebook as becoming the ‘dial tone for the internet’, meaning that anyone around the world should be able to access Facebook and get all of their essential services, news, weather, communication and even search results through it.
If the move towards long-term, sustainable, air-based internet sounds similar to another company then you’d be right. Google has already begun using airships outfitted with internet broadcasting services in the form of the Google Loon project, which has a bunch of giant balloons floating around deploying similarly free interwebs to the masses already.
While altruism is certainly part of the equation for both Google and Facebook, their motives are most certainly based on the fact that users of these free internet services will give them invaluable additions to the larger social graph that forms the basis of their respective advertising models.