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Zuck: Web drones, not balloons (cough, cough Google) are way forward

Facebook's boywonder dismisses rival's Loon balloons as loony baloney

Google Loon balloon envelope

Facebook's chief Mark Zuckerberg thinks his plan to carpet a portion of the world with internet-dispensing drones is a better approach than Google's Loon balloons.

The advertising mogul mused in a paper, published on Friday, the types of technologies he hopes to deploy via his company's just-announced Connectivity Lab to get the world online.

One reason why Zuckerberg is so keen on drones is users can "precisely control the location of these aircraft, unlike balloons," he wrote [PDF].

Another is that: "With the efficiency and endurance of high altitude drones, it's even possible that aircraft could remain aloft for months or years. This means drones have more endurance than balloons, while also being able to have their location precisely controlled."

To Zuckerberg's mind this is one of a bevy of reasons of why he has settled on drones as a major technology to use to bring the next five billion or so people in the world online (and, eventually, into his ad-slinging social network).

These drones, he wrote, will be solar-powered, and fly at a height of about 65,000 feet to wirelessly relay network connections to hard-to-reach places.

"This is also close to the lowest altitude for unregulated airspace, and a layer in the atmosphere that has very stable weather conditions and low wind speeds. This means an aircraft can easily cruise and conserve power, while generating power through its solar panels during the day to store in its batteries for overnight use," the multibillionaire wrote.

Zuck's approach stands in contrast to Google which has so far publicly said that it sees a floating swarm of "Loon" balloons armed with 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios as the best way to provide internet access to areas of the world with low population density.

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, meanwhile, has taken a seemingly grim view of both Google and Facebook's attempts to claw as many eyeballs online as possible.

"As a priority? It's a joke," Gates told CNBC in November. "I certainly love the IT thing. But when we want improve lives, you've got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition."

He took a similar view of Google's own Loon balloons, telling Bloomberg BusinessWeek in August that: "When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you."

Though Gates has subsequently taken on more of a hands-on role at Microsoft, he spends the majority of his time working on his own charity. The heads of Google and Facebook, by comparison, remain committed to bringing the world's population online as rapidly as possible, which (conveniently) will fuel the growth of their own for-profit services in the future. ®

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