Facebook VP of Engineering Jay Parikh has been making the rounds with U.K. media this week, talking up the social network’s plans to use drones to connect places throughout the world that currently get no cellular signal. In one interview with The Telegraph, though, Parikh made an interesting comment: some of those unconnected places might be right here in the U.K.
Facebook’s new Aquila drone is being designed and built in the U.K., thanks to Facebook’s acquisition of Somerset-based Ascenta, but the destination of these drones was always thought to be places like Paraguay and the Philippines, where high-flying unmanned aircraft could stand in for cell towers, blanketing rural and underserved areas with mobile signals. The drone project, after all, is part of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, which seeks to bring data services to areas still not reached by wireless or wireline data networks.
Parikh, however, told the Telegraph that he saw no reason why developed countries couldn’t benefit from Drone technology as well. He added that Facebook was open to talking with the U.K. government and local operators about testing out drones in their backyard.
Lack of mobile network coverage isn’t a problem exclusive to the developing world by any means. Anyone who has spent any time in the English countryside knows there are still plenty of dead zones or “not-spots”, where it’s impossible to get a signal. Circling drones, which can stay aloft for weeks, could fill in some of the biggest gaps, blanketing the ground below in 2G and 4G signals. Operators like EE are already tinkering with the technology. Who knows? Maybe in the next few years, you may no longer be looking to the horizon for the nearest tower. Instead you might be looking straight up.