Satellites to bring 'fast, cheap' Internet to 'under-connected'

Jun 24, 2013 by Laurent Banguet
A Soyuz rocket lifts off on December 16, 2011 from Europe's space base in Sinnamary, 12km from Kourou, French Guiana. The first four of 12 satellites in a new constellation to provide affordable, high-speed Internet to people in nearly 180 "under-connected" countries, will be shot into space on Tuesday, the project's developers said.

The first four of 12 satellites in a new constellation to provide affordable, high-speed Internet to people in nearly 180 "under-connected" countries, will be shot into space on Tuesday, the project's developers said.

The orbiters, part of a project dubbed O3b for the "other 3 billion" people with restricted Internet access, will be lifted by a from Kourou in at 1854 GMT.

"We are very close to launching a network that has the potential to change lives in very tangible ways and that is a tremendous feeling," O3b Networks chief technical officer Brian Holz said in a statement.

The project was born from the frustrations of Greg Wyler with the inadequacy of Rwanda's , while travelling there in 2007.

"Access to the Internet backbone is still severely limited in emerging markets," Wyler said in unveiling the O3b venture in 2008—promising multi-gigabit Internet speeds to countries "whether landlocked in Africa or isolated by water in the Pacific Islands".

"Only when emerging markets achieve affordable and ubiquitous access to the rest of the world will we observe locally generated content, widespread e-learning, telemedicine and many more enablers to social and economic growth, which reflect the true value of the Internet," he said.

Wyler's plan was to bypass costly ground-based infrastructure like fibre-optics or cables by deploying a constellation of small satellites around the equator to serve as a spatial relay between users and the world wide web using only .

Such a system would cover a region between the latitudes of 45 degrees North and 45 degrees South—the entire , most of Latin America, the Middle East, , Australia and the Pacific Islands.

There are already geostationary satellites providing this type of services, but at a prohibitive cost for many end-users.

Existing satellites generally obit at an altitude of some 36,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) above Earth, weigh in at a hefty four to six tonnes each, and take much longer to bounce a signal back to Earth—about 500 milliseconds to be exact, according to an O3b document.

"It is such a long delay that people speaking over a link will shorten conversations, interactive web has an extremely poor experience and many web-based software programmes just won't function," it said.

The O3b satellites, built by the Franco-Italian company Thales Alenia Space, will orbit at 8,062 km and will weigh only 650 kilogrammes (1,400 pounds) each.

Crucially, they will communicate with Earth four times faster, said the company, and six would be enough to assure permanent coverage.

"O3b's prices will be 30 - 50 percent less than traditional satellite services," said the document.

And it added that a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo could move from being one of the most poorly-connected on Earth to one of the best.

Launch company Arianespace, which will put the satellites in orbit, said the O3b constellation will combine "the global reach of satellite coverage with the speed of a fiber-optic network".

Project investors include Internet giant Google, cable company Liberty Global, satellite operator SES, HSBC bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

The first four satellites were due to be boosted into space on Monday but the launch was postponed by a day due to unfavourable weather conditions.

The next four satellites will be launched within weeks, according to Arianespace, and a final four "backup" orbiters early next year.

To refine its coverage, the constellation could in the end have as many as 16 supplementary satellites in addition to the 12 main ones, said O3b networks.

Explore further: Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

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User comments : 6

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Sanescience
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 24, 2013
Wonder what defenses such satellites will have against laser blinding by state actors that don't want their populations to be able to access the internet during times of public discontent.
PeterParker
1.5 / 5 (4) Jun 24, 2013
It is sad that American Corporations are preventing Fast and Cheap internet from reaching the American People.

Monopolies are like that.
Firstor
not rated yet Jun 27, 2013
This is great stuff, but not to take away from the impressive human endeavor, we always have to be wary about something like this, changing peoples' lives. Can they appreciate what they're getting? Not to be cynical, but what's likely to make up a higher volume of bandwidth: education and business or movies and porn? What about maintenance and cultural costs, especially for countries without the "social defenses" of western nations? Can they even use it - what kind of electricity, computer repair stores, etc infrastructure is required?

Most importantly, is "charity" like this done to serve or exploit? (This usually follows shortly.)

I'm all for such a project, but there's no harm in being a tad slow, with understanding of all the issues and not just a "gogogofasterfaster" mentality.
Mr Som-o
not rated yet Jul 01, 2013
Visit O3b's website at: http://www.o3bnetworks.com/. Also check out Wikipedia at: http://en.wikiped...ks,_Ltd.
Humpty
1 / 5 (4) Jul 01, 2013
The good thing is that this will bring the word of Jesus to the whole planet; he who with his 12 boy friends, is the founder of the gay and lesbian church. I don't know how the non christians will stomach his loving servants though.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Jul 01, 2013
we always have to be wary about something like this, changing peoples' lives

It's not like anyone is forcingthe to use internet. And cell phones are already widespread in Africa.

It is sad that American Corporations are preventing Fast and Cheap

Notice the quotation marks around 'fast' and 'cheap' in the article. This isn't fast (nor cheap) by US standards.
But if it is an alternative then it is sure to provide some interesting competition (which might force conventional providers to up their game and lower their prices) .

Most importantly, is "charity" like this done to serve or exploit?

This isn't for charity (there's a substantial price tag attached to launching these sattelites). The internet access for the populace is just a byproduct of the data transfer capabilities needed by corporations there.

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