Facebook's Terragraph project aims to replace fiber with fast, low-cost Wi-Fi

The company will pilot its program in San Jose later this year.

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Facebook’s plan to connect the world to the Internet is ambitious. It also has many arms. There’s Aquila, the solar-powered plane that will beam Internet to the ground. Then there’s Project ARIES, a plan to extend connectivity to rural areas cheaper and faster, so people who live close to cities will be able to access the Internet. But Facebook’s newest project is on the ground. It’s called Terragraph, a low-cost, high-speed wireless network that will replace fiber in big cities.

Facebook will pilot Terragraph in downtown San Jose later this year after a trial run at its Menlo Park campus. The company is placing cheap IPv6-only nodes with WiGig chips on lamp posts, utility poles, and small buildings that will broadcast Internet using unlicensed 60GHz spectrum. That spectrum doesn’t have very good range and is easily absorbed by water and oxygen, said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of engineering, during the company’s F8 developers conference Wednesday keynote. But that’s perfect for Facebook, because the company can keep street-level Wi-Fi capacity high for next to nothing.

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Project ARIES will extend Internet connectivity to rural areas.

Project ARIES will add more antennas to extend connectivity out to the more more than 90 percent of people around the world who live within 40 kilometers of a city. ARIES puts base stations with 96 antennas supporting 24 streams at 71 bits per second in urban areas to extend Internet out to rural areas.

Facebook’s goal is to increase connectivity speed by 10 times or reduce its cost by 10 times—ideally both. Aquila, ARIES, and Terragraph are its grand plans to do just that over the next decade. Parikh said the company doesn’t want to own Internet access, as it’s been accused of in its attempt to bring its Free Basics program to developing countries. Free Basics offers users access to specific essential apps for free, including Facebook (of course), health care apps, job search services, and more. But some claim that Free Basics violates net neutrality tenets, and it was recently banned in India.

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Facebook says 1.6 billion people in the world lack Internet connectivity.

“It’s not our aim to build and deploy these networks by ourselves,” Parikh said. “We just want to advance the state of the art. We want to help accelerate how people get connected to the Internet. We have a long journey ahead. I’m excited we’ve taken the first couple of steps.”

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