Facebook's Zuckerberg talks drones, Indian opposition, and virtual reality

23 Feb 2016
Daily News

It's rare for any tech executive to proselytize for free global Internet access and call for networks capable of driving "a 4K display for each eye" in a single speech, but that's exactly what Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg did at Mobile World Congress on Monday.

In a presentation plagued by audio problems which swallowed half of interviewer Jessi Hempel's questions and sprinkled both participants with feedback, the Facebook chief sought to promote his philanthropic side while also promoting new VR (virtual reality) schemes which he said would require twin 4K displays for proper results.

What about India?

Hempel, senior writer for Wired Magazine, wasted no time querying Zuckerberg on India's action against Facebook's Free Basics this month.

"Every country is different," said Zuckerberg. He said that his firm had made 19 million Netizens in the last "year-and-a-half" before calling India's decision "disappointing," adding that it's "obviously is a major setback for India."

Hempel followup question (alas, one of the few before her microphone went dead): "What have you learned?"

"Every country is different," reiterated Zuckerberg. He said that Facebook continues to roll out Free Basics in other countries, adding that in India "we're focusing on internet.org" – Facebook's scheme to bring Net access to developing countries. He said that the Open Compute initiative would help to lower prices, and "if prices go down, more people will have access to the net."

Passionate about Net access

"We believe that everyone should have access to the Net," he said, "but four billion people don't. No single company or government can [create universal net access], but Facebook's mission is to connect everyone in the world."

To this end, said Zuckerberg, the firm is "flying solar-powered Internet drones that can fly for six months or a year." He described the drones as being "the size of a 747, but with the weight of a car." The devices will use a laser-comm system that Zuckerberg described as "10-100x faster than traditional microwave," but a technology that requires precise aim to function. First trials, he said, would happen this year.

"I didn't start Facebook to become a company initially, but having a for-profit company is a good way to accomplish certain things," he said. Certainly, solar-powered internet-delivering laser drones is one of those things.

Zuckerberg was "disappointed" in what he related hearing at MWC this year: that 4G is about a good user-experience while 5G is about connecting things. "We should focus on bandwidth, latency etc, but also give opportunities to everyone in the world for internet access," he declared, a directive directed to the audience and applauded by them.

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