Satellite plan to bring 'the other three billion' online

O3b Networks has announced plans to deploy what it claims will be the world’s first high-speed, low-cost satellite system to provide communications services for people living in developing nations.

The idea is to cut the cost of trunk bandwidth for telecommunications operators and Internet service providers, so that they can offer cost-effective voice and broadband services to people in developing nations at speeds equivalent to those available in the developed world.

O3b Networks has already ordered an initial constellation of 16 satellites from Thales Alenia Space. The system’s 2,300 transponder equivalents will deliver low-latency Internet and cellular back-haul links at speeds reaching 10Gbit/sec. The service is due to go live in late 2010. It should be possible to add satellites if demand warrants.

O3b Networks was founded by Greg Wyler, an entrepreneur who sold his semiconductor cooling technology company, to make Internet access affordable for billions of people in emerging and developed markets. Wyler, with O3b Networks chairman John Dick, recently helped pioneer the first commercial 3G mobile and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) networks in Africa. That work revealed an urgent need for low-latency, gigabit/sec backhaul services that can power high-speed data and voice connectivity for consumers, businesses, schools and health care facilities.

 “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.”

Larry Alder, Google’s alternative access team product manager, said: “We believe in O3B's model and its goal of expanding the reach of the Internet to users who currently have limited and expensive connection options, as it complements our mission of organising the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful.”

Michael Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, the world’s leading international cable operator, said: “Core transmission capacity is one of the most significant barriers to rolling out the high-speed telecommunications infrastructure necessary for a developing country and its economy. Using satellite technology, O3b will make fibre-quality connectivity available throughout most of the world, without having to lay any fibre.”

Richard J Cole, HSBC’s global head of principal investments and private equity, said, “HSBC’s Principal Investments business is pleased to invest in O3b Networks and support the company’s enabling high-speed, low-cost Internet connectivity in emerging markets.”

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