Report: Facebook backs off geostationary satellite project

Before it even officially acknowledged it was pursuing a project of a geostationary nature, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) apparently has abandoned any such plan, according to a report by The Information.

Citing a person with direct knowledge of the project and a person briefed about it, The Information said the project would have been a geostationary satellite that could have helped provide Internet access to the unconnected around the world. Instead, if Facebook decides to go down that path in the future, it could arrange a lease from another satellite provider rather than building its own.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had openly discussed using satellites to help with Internet.org, but this newer, canceled scheme was apparently unrelated, Business Insider reports.

Veteran satellite industry players know all too well the risky nature of getting into the satellite business. Building and launching satellites remains an expensive proposition, and current generation satellite-based data services are slow in comparison to other tech.

The current iteration of Iridium came after years of struggles and bankruptcy. Teledesic, which also had big-name backers going for it, never really got off the ground. The old Globalstar went through Chapter 11 before it became the current Globalstar, which is waiting for the FCC to rule on its terrestrial low power service (TPLS) proposal to use satellite spectrum next to existing Wi-Fi channels to boost Wi-Fi performance and capacity. 

Still, where there's a will there's a way, and the money bags continue to invest. SpaceX and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) are collaborating on a mission to deliver Internet to remote regions. In January, WorldVu Satellites Limited, operating as OneWeb, announced plans to build, launch and operate a low-earth-orbit satellite constellation to help bring high-speed Internet and telephone to billions of people around the world. It's got the backing of Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group. 

OneWeb believes it has the spectrum and the satellite know-how to make it happen, including in remote and rural areas of the United States, where wireless operators often struggle to find a suitable business case. OneWeb founder and CEO Greg Wyler told FierceWirelessTech earlier this year that OneWeb secured the international spectrum rights and has developed its own model using satellites that will be far closer to the Earth than traditional satellites. It primarily will use Ku spectrum to the terminal and employs a method OneWeb calls "Progressive Pitch" for maximizing throughput while ensuring no interference with GEO operators.

And never fear--Facebook has other options in the works to reach the unconnected. At its F8 conference in March, the social network giant talked about a successful first test flight of a drone in the UK. During his keynote, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer showed pictures of an early prototype, code named Aquila, that Facebook is using to test for aerodynamics as part of an initiative he said the company would talk about more later this year.

The size of the unmanned aircraft that Facebook talked about is particularly impressive. "The final design will have a wingspan greater than a Boeing 737 but will weigh less than a car," CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook. "It will be powered by solar panels on its wings and it will be able to stay at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time."

For more:
- see The Information article
- see this Quartz article
- see this Business Insider article
- see this Mobile World Live article

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Qualcomm teams with Branson on OneWeb satellite venture as SpaceX CEO pursues rival constellation
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