Facebook Connectivity announced on Monday that it has developed a robot that can travel along power lines deploying a thin yet durable fiber-optic cable of Facebook’s own creation. It claims that this system, which utilizes the electrical grid to build out internet infrastructure, will be cheaper than the existing methods of laying internet cables, particularly in developing countries. That contributes to Face book Connectivity’s overall goal of increasing internet access.
Each robot will be capable of installing over a kilometre of fiber and passing the dozens of intervening obstacles autonomously in approximately an hour and a half. To account for the human interaction steps such as setup, loading and unloading the robot, installing transitions, etc., Facebook estimates an overall build speed of 1.5 km to 2 km per robot per day on average.
“We expect the total cost, including labour, depreciation, and materials, to be between $2 and $3 per metre in developing countries,” Facebook said in a statement on Monday.
“If successful, we believe this technology will allow fiber to effectively and sustainably be deployed within a few hundred metres of much of the world’s population. We expect to see technology trials of this fiber deployment system next year,” Facebook said.
The idea of utilizing electrical infrastructure first came to Facebook after it saw the ubiquity of electrical grid infrastructure while traveling across rural Africa.
“We realized that following the same grid with fiber could be an efficient way to build an end-to-end telecommunications network. To utilize the electrical grid and lower the cost of fiber deployments, we therefore chose to focus on aerial fiber construction,” said Facebook.
Globally, more than 3.5 billion people are still not connected to the internet. With average data usage per person growing 20 to 30 per cent annually, legacy bandwidth-limited technologies have been pushed to their capacity limits.
“While we still have a number of steps to complete before our first deployment, we have confidence that this approach will yield a substantial improvement to both the cost and speed of fiber deployments,” the company added.
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