Google has backed a venture to use satellites to bring high-speed Internet to three billion people in Africa and other developing markets around the equator. Today Google announced a partnership with cable operator Liberty Global and bank HSBC. Their partnership is called O3b Networks—
O3b stands for "other 3 billion," a reference to the world's population that still can't access the Internet [The New York Times].
The group announced an order for 16 satellites as the first stage in the $750 million project, which will provide cheap, fast Internet access to companies that sell internet service via mobile phones or wireless networks. The move is being greeted as a clever technological solution, a boon for the developing world, and a smart business move.
"Google has an interest in boosting the Internet all over the world to reach new masses," said [business analyst] Wim Zwanenburg.... "The growth market for Internet and mobile phones is in emerging countries" [Bloomberg].
The satellites, which should be operational by the end of 2010, will circle the globe in a relatively low orbit in order to speed data transmission time. The satellite system avoids the problem of the lack of fiber optic cables in the developing world, where Internet companies haven't had a financial incentive to invest in such infrastructure.
Larry Alder, product manager in Google’s alternative access group, said the [satellite] project could bring the cost of bandwidth in such markets down by 95 per cent [Financial Times].
Internet access over satellite has a poor record - the speed of deployment has often seen ground-based alternatives surpass orbiting connection speeds.... O3b isn't planning to cover the world, which simplifies things hugely, and its aggressive deployment schedule and targeted demographic means their service is unlikely to be supplanted by anything ground-based - so it just remains to be seen if the disconnected three billion really want high-speed data [The Register].
Google has also patented the plans for a data center floating in the ocean, powered by wave action and/or wind power.
Image: flickr/Manuel Ebert