Gilat and Boeing’s Sea Launch have signed deals with Google funded o3B Networks. I had my doubts but it looks like there will be a ring of Medium Earth Orbit satellites up by 2010 providing low cost, ultra-low latency connectivity for providers in the developing world/emerging markets.
From the Gilat press release:
O3b Networks, funded by Google Inc., Liberty Global, Inc. and HSBC Principal Investments, recently announced it will deploy the world’s first ultra-low-latency, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), Ka-band, fiber-speed satellite network designed to improve Internet access for millions of consumers and businesses in emerging markets. Service activation and ground equipment is scheduled for late 2010.
Gilat’s planned new line of MEO VSAT terminals and gateway components will be developed based on its industry-leading SkyEdge platform. The MEO VSAT equipment will cover multiple aspects of O3b Networks’ ground segment and enable automatic tracking of the satellites and seamless handoff between satellites. Specific terminals are planned for high-growth markets, including 3G Cellular/WiMAX backhaul, IP trunking, and broadband connectivity for SMEs and ISP backhaul.
Sea Launch Company has signed a launch services agreement with O3b Networks Limited for up to two launches in support of their Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) telecommunications satellite constellation, with the first launch set for late 2010.
Built by Thales Alenia Space, the O3b Networks satellites will be deployed by Sea Launch’s Zenit-3SL system in groups of eight per launch, to an equatorial injection orbit of 7,825 kilometers above the Earth. The satellites, each weighing approximately 700 kg (1,540 lb.), are designed to provide high-speed, ultra-low-latency Internet Protocol (IP) connectivity between emerging and developed markets worldwide.
Google and other partners have so far invested $65m of the total $750m sought, and venture capital is being raised for the rest. This proves just how much this bottom of the pyramid Internet market is worth to Google.
Satellite bandwidth is already highly commoditised, and O3B’s plan to reduce this from US$4,000 per megabit per month to $500 requires compelling evidence. In any case this is wholesale bandwidth, not for end users, who will still pay whatever the telco wishes to charge.
I also think that their US$ 750 million investment in satellites will be useless within 20 years of launch due to degradation (NYT claims a 10-15 year life for MEO satellites), whereas building more land capacity in Africa would have much longer-lasting benefits.