Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said yesterday that his company is close to launch its first satellite into space to provide Internet access to Sub-saharan Africa. The satellite will be launched in the “next few months” he said.
The satellites were first announced last year in October. Facebook has partnered a European satellite operator called Eutelsat and all this is part of Facebook’s internet.org project.
The objective, Zuckerberg said yesterday, is to reduce the number of people who don’t have access to the internet. He pointed out 3 reasons preventing about 4 billion people globally from using the internet: Availability, Affordability and Awareness. He said availability prevents about a billion people. No doubt mostly in developing countries. Affordability, he said, affects another billion people. Again, this has to be mostly in developing countries.
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The Awareness factor was a bit of a surprise for us. According to Zuckerberg, there are about 2 billion people out there who live in a place where there’s good internet coverage, can afford to pay for data, but just don’t see the point of using the internet! In Zimbabwe, it’s all 3 factors combined but Availability and Affordability likely account for over 80% of the cases.
It’s not clear yet how the satellite internet project will be implemented on the ground, both technically and operationally. Facebook will likely be viewed skeptically as new competition by internet providers and mobile operators who have invested in infrastructure to connect the people Facebook is targeting to “help”. Ofcourse it can also be viewed as growing the cake.
In the announcement last year, Facebook said it would work with local partners across “to help communities begin accessing internet services provided through satellite.” Said like that, it sounds like an NGO effort more than a commercial one.
Facebook is ofcourse not an NGO and they wouldn’t invest in satellites just for feel good. Facebook’s companies – Facebook.com, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and others – benefit commercially the more new people join to use the apps, even if these people don’t pay anything directly to Facebook. It’s main business, Advertising, increases significantly if advertisers have more people to target with ads.
Along with the satellite announcement, Zuckerberg spoke about the solar powered internet plane which flies in the sky for months at a time beaming the internet down. He also announced the launch of its Free Basics simulator for developers, which lets developers see how their service will appear in the product.