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Facebook is working on mesh Wi-Fi to possibly bring to developing countries

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook gave an update yesterday on its efforts to expand Express Wi-Fi, an app that lets unserved communities pay for internet service. The company is still working on efforts to reach the 3.8 billion people in the world who don’t have internet access, in order to grow its potential market.

Facebook says it’s developing software in Boston to manage networks more easily and enable operators to deploy mesh Wi-Fi networks. It’s also working on a new routing framework at its California headquarters for large-scale Wi-Fi mesh networks, with up to 50 access points.

Express Wi-Fi was initially available in five countries: India, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Indonesia. It launched in 2016 as a way for local ISPs and business people to sell and provide internet service in developing countries.

Facebook also has teams working on Express Wi-Fi in Dubai, Israel, and Ireland, and is running a pilot program for the mesh Wi-Fi tech in Tanzania. The company told The Verge in a statement that it did not have concrete plans for mesh Wi-Fi for other countries besides Tanzania as of yet. “Right now, we’re focused on validating the technology ... we’re still determining next steps,” a spokesperson said.

The update on a two-year project reinforces the idea that Facebook is still following its self-proposed mission to bring internet access to underserved communities, even after several years. Other internet projects it worked on haven’t fared so well. In June, Facebook announced it was abandoning the Aquila project, which explored the use of high-flying drones to deliver internet. The company stated that other companies were working on high-altitude aircraft and it would partner with them instead.