Notably absent from Facebook’s announcements this week are updates on its more outlandish attempts to deliver internet connections, like its Aquila drone project. The idea of Aquila is to fly a gigantic drone (wingspan: 140 feet) that beams an internet connection to people on the ground. The project was the major theme of Facebook’s presence at MWC last year, but Parikh didn’t give an update this time. “Facebook has struggled to define its role in infrastructure deployment and connectivity,” said Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly.
Instead, Facebook talked about more prosaic networking technologies—things like backhaul, base stations, and radios—that were more familiar to the assembled crowd of telco execs. It’s a shift in emphasis for Facebook, away from its Free Basics zero-rating efforts, in which telcos offer subscribers packages with cheap or free access to Facebook, but limited or paid access to the rest of the internet. This hit a major roadblock when regulators in India blocked Facebook’s attempt to offer Free Basics there in 2016. “Talk about drones and balloons to provide connectivity are far quieter now than before,” Howett said.