Facebook is to begin test flights later this year for a solar powered drone that will bring Internet to remote locations throughout the world.

The drone, boasting a wingspan to match a Boeing 737, weighs less than 460 kg (1000 pounds) and is designed to fly at high altitudes for up to three months using lasers to direct internet signals to stations located at ground level.

Laser communications systems will have the capability of hitting a target the size of a dime from 18 kilometres, or 11 miles away.

The drones will be designed to transmit signals from one aircraft to another and will be lifted with helium balloons during the day to up to 90,000 feet- a level above commercial airlines and thunderstorms. At night, they will be lowered in the atmosphere to preserve battery power.

Facebook is not alone in their vision. Google is said to be experimenting with high-altitude balloons as well as drones and satellites and Microsoft has funded a project that will transmit Internet signals over unused television airwaves.

Facebook says their drive for development is not commercially motivated but based in the belief that Internet access can bring a host of economic and social benefits to developing nations.

The social networking site also has plans to provide limited mobile Internet service free of charge in countries where residents are too poor to afford traditional plans.