James Middleton

September 10, 2008

2 Min Read
Google sets up satellite network in emerging markets

It emerged this week that web giant Google is sinking cash into a satellite operator to bring high speed, low cost internet connectivity to emerging markets.

The brainchild of American entrepreneur Greg Wyler, who recently rolled out fibre networks in Rwanda with his company Terracom, O3b Networks proposes to wirelessly connect markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

And O3b, which is an acronym for “the Other 3 billion”, has not just attracted the interests of Google. HSBC Principal Investments and Liberty Global are also on board.

Where developed nations, particularly those in the northern hemisphere, are well served by an extensive submarine fibre network, the same is not true, in both a commercial and practical sense, of emerging markets. So O3b claims it can offer fibre performance over satellite links, at prices comparable to fibre in developed regions, as well as plugging directly into core networks and 3G cellular and WiMAX towers to change the economics of the telecommunications game in the world’s fastest growing markets.

“O3B’s model empowers local entrepreneurs and companies to deliver Internet and mobile services to those in currently under served or remote locations at speeds necessary to power rich web based applications,” said Larry Alder, Google’s Alternative Access team product manager.

The company’s plan is to launch an initial constellation of 16 satellites supported by an infrastructure of 2,300 transponders, supplying internet backhaul and 3G cellular backhaul at speeds reaching 10Gbps.

Production of the satellites has begun and service activation is scheduled for late 2010.

“Access to the internet backbone is still severely limited in emerging markets,” Wyler said. “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. O3b Networks will bring multi-gigabit internet speeds directly to the emerging markets, whether landlocked in Africa or isolated by water in the Pacific Islands.”

Perhaps Google will also tap the resources it recently obtained through investment in high altitude networking specialist Space Data, which provides specialised communications services to the military and various industrial outfits. Space Data’s business model is to provide low cost platforms for rural and remote data and voice communication applications via its high altitude SkySite network, which basically consists of an array of balloons equipped with a box of transceivers and other gadgets, ideal for providing connectivity in otherwise adverse territories.

About the Author(s)

James Middleton

James Middleton is managing editor of telecoms.com | Follow him @telecomsjames

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