Meta has quietly reabsorbed the resources of its “Connectivity” division, the company confirmed. For nearly 10 years, this was the home of the former Facebook’s experimental internet and telecoms efforts, from satellites (exploded) to drones (crashed) to apps (disputed) and other more traditional infrastructure (appreciated and ongoing).
As first noted by Light Reading, Meta Connectivity’s staff and projects, or what remain of them after the imminent cuts, will be divided between its Infrastructure and Central Products divisions. Exactly which resources and people will stay is no doubt a matter of some discussion even now, but the complete reduction of Connectivity suggests the more out-there approaches to providing internet are probably gone for good.
The beginning of this division can probably be traced to attempts about ten years ago to subsidize internet connections in developing countries and regions. The Internet.org and Free Basics efforts would essentially provide Facebook and some bundled services free of charge to places where connectivity was expensive.
This provoked a great deal of controversy at the time, from people incensed that a U.S. company thought it should step in to solve another’s problems, to the notion that the same company would essentially control access and content in violation of net neutrality policies, to others who saw the ostensibly charitable endeavor as Facebook buying global market share.
In 2015 the company revealed plans for a completely unexpected high-altitude drone named Aquila, which would use lasers to connect people below it. This ambitious effort had a tough couple years, experiencing a rough landing in 2016 and eventually being permanently grounded in 2018.
Meanwhile, they were going even higher than that with an early attempt at a low Earth orbit satellite connectivity system, which was scheduled for launch in September 2016. Unfortunately…
Facebook didn’t give up, but it is worth noting that its next venture into satellite internet, a subsidiary called PointView Tech, had filed experimental FCC licensing documents in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021… but not this year. I reached out to check in but haven’t heard back. (Update: Looks like the satellite division was sold off to Amazon in 2021. That explains it…)
But not everything the Connectivity division did flew in the air. As they probably had reiterated to them every time they talked about drones and lasers, what’s really needed is fiber backhaul and solid traditional wireless infrastructure so that neglected areas can connect just like everyone else in the world does.
To that end, Meta has been working with the Telecom Infra Project to build new software, hardware and standards that make telecommunications networks more accessible and maintainable. Legacy industry dominates this space, so new entrants have a potentially large opportunity to make a change. Meta and Google, for instance, have invested in undersea cables and fiber that serve both their own purposes and public transport.
That said, now that Connectivity is being broken up for parts, it’s impossible to say which efforts will continue to be pursued, funded, and so on. We’ll keep an eye out when the layoffs and consolidation conclude and see what’s left standing.