Facebook is in discussion with several countries to trial internet connectivity through drones in poorly networked areas. Demonstrations could potentially take place in 2018.

“Some of the countries that are really clamouring to host this first demo have huge regions where there is zero or very poor internet connectivity,” said Martin Gomez, Facebook’s director of aeronautical platforms, on the sidelines of a drone conference in London, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The rate of growth in connecting people has slowed, he added, suggesting “the low-hanging fruit have been plucked.”

However, drone experts believe getting an international agreement for drone use across borders is years away as regulators in Europe and the US work on how to safely allow such operations, the report said, adding that working with governments is crucial for success.

According to Gomez, Facebook has a “colossal regulatory burden ahead of us”.

Trials will be aimed at persuading relevant watchdogs that drones are safe and reliable. “My goal is to get us to the point where we have an airplane airborne all the time,” Gomez added.

In July, Facebook’s Connectivity Lab completed the first successful test flight of its high-altitude unmanned aircraft called Aquila.

Facebook still needs to break the world record for solar-powered unmanned flight, which currently stands at two weeks, to be able to fly over a remote region and deliver connectivity for up to three months at a time.

Facebook had also planned to provide bandwidth to remote areas via satellite but that initiative suffered a setback last month when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, supposed to carry the AMOS-6 satellite into orbit with Facebook’s payload among others, exploded during a routine test.

Gomez said this hasn’t affected plans for the drone programme. The satellite was meant for even more sparsely populated regions than areas for which the drone is intended.