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For Facebook Inc., Here's What Solar-Powered Drones and WhatsApp Have in Common

By Steve Symington – Mar 4, 2014 at 7:30PM

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Facebook might be in talks to acquire drone maker Titan Aerospace. Here's why.

When Facebook (META -1.54%) acquired mobile messaging platform WhatsApp last month, CEO Mark Zuckerberg quipped, "After buying a company for $16 billion, you're probably done for awhile." 

But what's another $60 million here and there?

According to sources familiar with the situation, that's the amount Facebook might spend to acquire Titan Aerospace, a maker of high-altitude, solar-powered drones.

A drone maker -- really?
So, what could the social media giant possibly want with Titan Aerospace?

Look no further than Titan's involvement with the Internet Africa Project, for which it aims to "strategically deploy Solara UAVs to provide ubiquitous Internet access to previously isolated populations."

Take Titan's SOLARA 60 platform, for example, a zero emissions UAV capable of flying for up to five years at a time, with a payload up to 250 pounds, and at altitudes of 65,000 feet. Those payloads include a wide variety of voice and data communications hardware, and can currently support data rates up to 1 Gbps.

Facebook is likely interested in the Titan SOLARA 60, Image source: Titan Aerospace

That meshes beautifully with Facebook's launch of last Summer, which it described as "a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities, and experts who are working together to bring the Internet to the two thirds of the world's population that doesn't have it." 

Here's where WhatsApp comes in
So, what does this all have to do with WhatsApp?

Well ... everything, actually.

Speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, Zuckerberg reminded everyone he and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum had known each other for years, but hadn't actually talked about combining their companies until they had aligned in their vision for

And considering the group of people currently connected to the Internet is largely derived from the most wealthy parts of the world, WhatsApp arguably has the most potential building its 450 million (and counting) user base through helping mobile users in emerging economies find a simpler way to communicate.

For instance, take the most recent report from the state-affiliated China Internet Network Information Center, which states the country ended last year with 618 million total Internet users. Of those, 500 million -- or nearly 81% -- accessed the Internet through mobile devices.

What's more, Koum also announced last week WhatsApp will soon add voice calling to its repertoire -- but that'll be of little help for citizens of countries with inadequate wireless data networks.

If Facebook can also serve as the source of those data networks by implementing the drone-based solution offered by Titan Aerospace, it'll open the doors for WhatsApp to, in Zuckerberg's words, "focus on connecting one, two, three billion people." 

And that, my fellow Fools, has always been Facebook's end goal.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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