Networking

Could Facebook be your company's next internet provider?

A stealthy FCC filing from the social media giant seems to point to plans to deploy internet satellites.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Under a subsidiary named PointView Tech LLC, Facebook could be planning to launch a satellite named Athena to deliver ultra-fast internet service.
  • Facebook's Athena satellite may head to low Earth orbit in 2019, directly competing with SpaceX's Starlink.

According to a recent FCC filing, Facebook may be looking to make a play an as internet service provider (ISP), putting satellites into space to beam down connectivity around the world.

At first glance, the filing doesn't seem to have anything to do with Facebook, as it is listed under a company named PointView Tech LLC. However, according to IEEE, the firm is actually a subsidiary of Facebook that was secretly formed in 2017.

Facebook's special internet plans don't seem to be very far along, though, as the filing is only for one experimental satellite, named Athena, to be launched into low Earth orbit (LEO)—a sun-synchronous orbit between 500-550 km, the filing said.

SEE: Internet and Email usage policy (Tech Pro Research)

Space Systems Loral is the firm behind the design and manufacture of Athena, the filing said. The Arianespace Vega launcher is contracted to carry the satellite as a secondary load in early 2019. Construction on the satellite began in July 2016.

Athena will use high-frequency millimeter wave radio signals to deliver the internet service, the filing notes. As Eric Mack of our sister site CNET points out, this the same technology behind many 5G mobile network deployments.

"PointView's request for experimental authority also encompasses two earth stations that will conduct E-band communications with the satellite," the filing said. "The mission will be to determine whether such satellite communications can efficiently provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas throughout the world."

If all this sounds familiar, it's because other tech companies have been trying similar projects for a while now. SpaceX's plan for global satellite internet service, called Starlink, was recently approved by the FCC to perform similar work to what PointView Tech is planning. Starlink is a little further along, with a plan to launch thousands of satellites in LEO. Richard Branson-backed OneWeb is also planning its own satellite internet service.

Whether or not Facebook is involved with PointView Tech, the prevalence of such programs raises and interesting question on the future of internet access: Will tech companies be our next ISPs?

Alphabet has made big strides with Google Fiber, and SpaceX an Facebook could very possibly realize their goals with their respective efforts. Still, with Facebook's recent data scandal fresh in citizen's minds, one would have to question how much control a user would want to give these companies over their traffic.

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Image: Facebook

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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