The Google-backed project O3b (Other 3 billion) to bring low cost Internet, is about to take off. The company’s first four satellites are set to go into orbit at an altitude of 8,000km above the Earth, aimed at providing broadband coverage to half of the world population. They will be launched aboard the Soyuz rocket, which is due to blast off from the French Guiana Space Centre. This global network of advanced technology will help to mitigate the digital divide between the North, accustomed to the use of smartphones and tablets, and Southern, who begin to awaken to the information society.
Statistics from the International Telecommunication Union are clear: two-thirds of humanity will not have access to the greatest source of information and data in the world. In Europe, 77% of the population is connected, in Africa, it reaches 16%. O3b is break this overwhelming imbalance through a family of next-generation satellite that will carry traffic with low latency, long distance and remote locations. In September is scheduled to launch four other artifacts. “With eight satellites, and after control operations during the month of November the service will definitely underway,” explained project managers, led by the Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES), Google, HSBC and Liberty Global.
For this global Internet can be more fully realized, O3b will orbit at least four satellites to reach a constellation consists of 12 next year, which may be extended if the demand for services required. Teleports installed in strategic areas of the world (Hawaii, USA, Peru, Brazil, Portugal, Greece, Pakistan and Australia) redistributed the satellite signal to local telecommunications companies and then individuals, businesses or government agencies.
As the Colombian Skynet, which operates in a region of the Amazon in which 40% of the population lives on just two dollars (1.5 euros) a day and provides Internet connections to 40 meg broadband through a geostationary satellite (36,000 miles up). With O3b will increase links to 200 megs and reduce the cost and latency. In Malaysia, for example, the company Maju Nusa cover 138 pitches in a government plan aimed at breaking the digital divide between urban and rural.
Besides breaking the huge digital divide between the rich and the poor, this initiative will take a major leap for millions of people to enter the information society, a mission made easier by the cheaper devices. By the way, the change will be in ample dimensions to bring the Internet to remote and inhospitable areas and sectors that are now being forced to pay exorbitant prices for these types of connections, such as maritime or oil platforms. The president of the Spanish division of SES says this new constellation of satellites is “substantially complementary” to the company’s offerings. He explains, “Satellite technology is set to play a leading role not only in the forefront of innovative new services such as high and ultra high definition, but definitely the task of breaking the global digital divide”.
The areas in which satellites operate this network extends from the Cook Islands, where you can take 10 minutes to send a simple email, to Nigeria, a country in which much of the population does not even have landline, going Brazil, where a high percentage of schools not connected to the Internet.
The Channel Islands-based O3b reportedly raised more than $1bn to finance its infrastructure. It is backed by Google, along with other investors such as SES, Liberty Global and HSBC Principal Investments.
The company’s Steve Collar told Al Arabiya about O3b’s ambitions in the Middle East.
Q&A with Steve Collar, Chief Executive of O3b Networks
You plan to launch your first satellite on Monday. Will this have coverage of the Middle East?
Yes. With global coverage in a band 45 degrees north and south of the equator, the satellites will offer broadband connectivity to millions across the ME, including rural communities, who have previously been unable to access the internet effectively.
Have you got any launch customers in the Arab world?
Yes. In 2011 O3b Networks signed a deal with Etisalat.
What price do you think the broadband service will be in the Middle East?
We do not set prices. We sell capacity to operators [and internet service providers] who then sell it to their clients as a service. What we can guarantee is lower prices than traditional satellite companies – which is one of our key benefits.
How would you characterize the levels of internet penetration in the Arab world?
While there is good connectivity in major cities in the Arab world, more rural areas and villages often have only voice services or low speed internet connections or none at all. What is available is beyond the financial means of many. O3b will offer internet service providers and mobile operators affordable high speed connectivity that will allow them to increase broadband coverage well beyond major cities.
Do you plan further launches after the first four satellites go into orbit?
We are launching a further four satellites in September, whereby the network will be fully operational. In 2014, we will be launching another four and from there we can keep adding more when the capacity demands it.