Facebook’s plan to connect the world includes this record-breaking tech

facebook mmw wireless system

It’s difficult to keep up with Facebook’s slew of announcements from its F8 conference this week. But at least it plans to make it easier in the future.

The company updated developers and consumers on its connectivity plans going forward — a sphere of Facebook’s development model that’s perhaps one of its more exciting. And no, not entirely because it’s geeky as hell.

New developments in its MMW radio tech means that citizens of Earth might soon be able to bury the word “buffer” in the future.

Facebook pushes 80Gbps through its radio network

Alongside improvements to its inner city internet connectivity trials (which we cover more extensively below), Facebook announced that it broke its own MMW broadcast record this year.

What is MMW? MMW, also known as “milimeter-wave” is a frequency spectrum that slots in between current WiFi standards and infrared. More scientifically, MMW occupies the 30GHz-300GHz spectrum. According to Facebook, around 7GHz of spectrum is available within the 60GHz window its MMW requires, but other countries, like the US, are expanding this window.

In 2016, speeds achieved by the network hit 20Gbps over 13km, but in 2017, it has topped 80Gbps.

To put that into perspective, Facebook claims that that’s the equivalent to broadcasting “4000 ultra-high-definition videos simultaneously”. In South Africa, you’d be lucky to watch a single 720p video on YouTube.

That’s not the only record though.

Tether-tenna and Aquila: internet from the air

“We also used the technology to demonstrate 16 Gbps simultaneously in each direction from a location on the ground to a circling Cessna aircraft over 7 km away,” the company boasts, suggesting the possibilities the technology has for drone-to-ground, or airliner-to-ground connectivity.

The system will also serve Facebook as it trials its Aquila internet-broadcasting aircraft later this year, and a “tethered-drone” system its calling “Tether-tenna”.

“It’s a small helicopter tethered to a fibre line and power—essentially, insta-infrastructure. If the fibre line is still good to a certain point, we can make a virtual tower by flying a Tether-tenna a few hundred feet from the ground,” the company reveals.

“When completed, this technology will be able to be deployed immediately and operate for months at a time to bring back connectivity in case of an emergency — ensuring the local community can stay connected while the in-ground connectivity is under repair.”

That’s incredibly useful for areas affected by natural disasters, or events that require temporary high-bandwidth coverage like music festivals. Think of it as a floating radio antenna system.

Boosting connection speed, coverage within cities

At a smaller, more dense scale, the company is trialing its 60GHz Terragraph multi-node wireless system to “bring high-speed internet connectivity to dense urban areas”.

facebook terragraph

“Our idea is to extend fibre using wireless instead of more fibre, to build faster networks at a lower cost. It’s a simple concept, but deploying this at scale in a city has never been done before — until now,” the company said in reference to the trial.

To help iron out kinks, the company’s also employing its “computer vision” systems to help better map potential blind spots, and obstructions within the city itself.

Using this, and employing a software rectification system, the company can “reduce the failover rate to something so small, it’s a blip — unnoticeable on human time scales”.

“There’s more testing to do before we’re ready to contribute this technology to the wider ecosystem, but we’re really encouraged by our progress so far.”

For more coverage of Facebook’s F8 developers conference, visit our mini-hub.

Andy Walker, former editor


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