March 7, 2014 - Facebook is reportedly in discussions to acquire Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of drones, for around $60m.
Titan Aerospace specialises in solar-powered, very high flying drones capable of staying airborne for five years at a time, positioned as a more cost-effective alternative to orbital satellites dubbed as "atmospheric satellites".
The talks, confirmed by technology site TechCrunch, indicate that Facebook is likely interested in these satellite alternative drones that fly as high as 20km in altitude as part of its Internet.org initiative.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress in February to elaborate on the Internet.org coalition's plans to connect the next five billion people to the internet in developing nations. The drones could be used to blanket large areas of Africa and other countries with internet access.
A source told TechCrunch that Titan Aerospace would be fully committed to the Internet.org project post acquisition, and would start building 11,000 drones for the effort.
Titan Aerospace was founded in 2012, with research and development facilities in New Mexico, aiming to create a new type of drone called an "atmostat", which could fulfil the role of a near-Earth satellite at a fraction of the cost and without needing to be launched into orbit.
Zuckerberg has stated that Facebook will have long-term involvement with the Internet.org project and that it was willing to spend significant amounts of money without a likely return on investment in the near future.
"It's easy to take for granted that most people have access to the internet, but only one third of the world, 2.7 billion people, currently have access to the internet," said Zuckerberg in his MWC keynote. "We're not on a path to connect everyone right now, unless something dramatic changes."
Mobile internet data subscribers number in the 1.2 billion in developing nations, far outstripping the 357m fixed broadband connections in those same countries, meaning that mobile data outnumbers fixed broadband by over 3:1 in the developing world.
The Titan Aerospace drones could provide an ideal platform for expanding the footprint of the mobile broadband, and help Facebook both connect more people and expand its user base in developing markets like Africa.
Titan Aerospace has yet to respond to the Guardian's request for confirmation.