Meta has quietly reabsorbed the resources of its “Connectivity” division, the company confirmed. For nearly 10 years this was the home of Facebook’s previous experimental internet and telecommunications efforts, from satellites (exploding) to drones (crashing) to apps (disputed) and other more traditional infrastructure (thankful and ongoing).
As first noted by Light Reading, Meta Connectivity’s staff and projects, or what remains of them after the upcoming cuts, will be split between its Infrastructure and Core Products divisions. There is no doubt that the resources and the people will remain a matter of debate even now, but the overall decline in Connectivity suggests that a more far-reaching approach to internet provision is probably gone.
The beginning of this divide can probably be traced back to efforts about a decade ago to subsidize internet connections in developing countries and regions. Internet.org and Free Basics efforts would essentially bring Facebook and some bundled services for free to places where connectivity was expensive.
This sparked a lot of controversy at the time, from people outraged that a US company thought it should get involved in solving someone else’s problems, with the notion that the same company would essentially control access and content. violation of net neutrality policies, and to others who saw the ostensibly charitable effort as Facebook buying global market share.
In 2015 the company unveiled plans for a completely unexpected high-altitude drone called Aquila, which would use lasers to connect people below it. This ambitious endeavor involved a few rough years, a rough landing in 2016 and was finally established permanently in 2018.
Meanwhile, they were going above and beyond with an early attempt at a low Earth orbit satellite connectivity system, scheduled to launch in September 2016. Unfortunately…
Facebook hasn’t given up, but it’s worth noting that its next satellite internet venture, a subsidiary called PointView Tech, has filed FCC experimental licensing documents in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021… but not this year . I reached out to check in but never heard back.
But not everything that the Communications Division did was in the air. As they probably repeated every time they talked about drones and lasers, what is really needed is fiber backhaul and solid traditional wireless infrastructure so neglected areas can connect just like they do everyone else in the world.
To that end Meta is working with the Telecom Infra Project to build new software, hardware and standards that make telecommunications networks more accessible and sustainable. The legacy industry dominates this space so there is a huge opportunity for new entrants to make a difference. For example, Meta and Google have invested in submarine cables and fiber that serve both their own purposes and public transport.
That said, now that connectivity is being broken up for parts, there’s no telling which efforts will continue to be pursued, funded, and so on. We’ll keep an eye out for when the layoffs and consolidation are completed and see what’s left standing.