Facebook’s unmanned solar-powered drone, Aquila, which aims to provide infrastructure for affordable internet in remote areas, is not coming to India, the social networking giant’s India and South Asia managing director, Umang Bedi told FactorDaily.
“Aquila is one of our connectivity efforts, which I think, is an experiment for the US only. It’s got nothing to do with India; there was some speculation, but that was speculation only,” Bedi said.
According to an Economic Times report from earlier this month, which quotes Facebook’s connectivity public policy director Robert Pepper, the California-based company was in talks with Indian telcos for drone trials.
“Aquila is one of our connectivity efforts which is an experiment for the US only. It’s got nothing to do with India; there was some speculation, but that was speculation only”
— Umang Bedi, Facebook India chief
Aquila has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 and can remain in the air for up to 90 days at one go, delivering internet to people in remote areas where there’s no fibre connectivity. It can deliver internet in a 96.5-km radius (60 miles). The drone, however, is currently under investigation in the US after meeting with an accident.
Whether the investigation has anything to do with Facebook keeping Aquila away from India and other emerging markets is open to speculation of course.
“What we are doing in India and in some of our emerging markets is looking at a sustainable development effort via one of our initiatives called Express Wifi. It’s an early stage pilot. We are working with entrepreneurs and telcos. As the pilot materialises, we’ll share more details, but it’s in early stage right now,” Bedi said, talking about making the internet more accessible and “relevant locally.” India is Facebook’s second-largest market, and Bedi called it “the most strategic market” for the company.
Express Wifi allows users to purchase internet from local data providers. According to this BBC report, it has already been offered at 125 rural Wifi hotspots as part of the pilot. Bedi declined to share a timeline for the project or any further details saying it’s “early stage.”
The Express Wifi initiative comes on the back of Facebook’s Free Basics, which was banned by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in February on the basis of the fact that it violates the principles of net neutrality. Free Basics sought to provide some websites such as its own for free.
“The TRAI put a ban on zero ratings, so we won’t be doing zero rating programs and we will abide by the rules and regulations,” Bedi said.
Sharing the company’s vision for India going forward, the Facebook India chief said that they want “to be a loved and trusted brand.”
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Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.