Google-Backed 'O3b' Satellites Promise High-Speed Internet Access

Initially, 16 satellites will orbit near the equator to deliver connectivity to emerging markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

September 9, 2008

2 Min Read

Google is financing a constellation of 16 satellites to bring high-speed low-cost Internet connectivity to emerging nations located near the equator.

Announced Tuesday, O3b Networks said the satellites are planned to orbit near the equator to deliver Internet connectivity to emerging markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. The service is planned for activation by the end of 2010.

The endeavor is the brainchild of entrepreneur Greg Wyler, who realized the need -- and the difficulty -- of getting high-speed Web access to emerging nations while he helped to establish early 3G and fiber-to-the-home networks in Africa.

"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 (much) more," said Wyler in a statement. "O3b Network will bring multi-gigabit Internet speeds directly to emerging markets, whether landlocked in Africa or isolated by water in the Pacific Islands."

O3b -- abbreviation for "the other 3 billion" -- is headquartered in Jersey, Channel Islands, with a subsidiary for technical development located in Englewood, Colorado.

Initial satellite development is being provided by French defense company Thales SA. The O3b business plan calls for regional ISPs and telecommunications providers to utilize the satellites for high-speed internet access in their respective regions. The company said the system's more than 2,000 transponder equivalents will be able to deliver Internet backhaul at speeds of 10 Gbps. The system has been configured so additional satellites can be added as needed.

"O3b Networks' model empowers local entrepreneurs and companies to deliver Internet and mobile services to those in currently underserved or remote locations at speeds necessary to power rich web-based applications," said Larry Alder, Google's Alternative Access Team product manager, in a statement.

Liberty Global, which offers telecommunications and Web services in more than 15 countries, will contribute technical services to the project through its Colorado facilities

In addition to Google, O3b is initially being financed by Liberty Global and HSBC Holdings. Investment banking firm Allen & Company is also helping to finance the project, although at a lower level than the three chief financing entities.

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