Google satellites to reach orbit in 2013

Google-backed satellite operator O3b Networks, which stands for “the Other 3 billion”, is set to launch services in 2013 after this week securing its final round of funding. The company has raised a total of $1.2bn from a group of investors and banks, which will allow it to launch the first of its satellites dedicated to providing low-latency, fibre-quality internet connectivity between developing markets and the global internet infrastructure.

Counting Google as one of its leading backers, O3b has also attracted the interests of HSBC Principal Investments and Liberty Global, as well as Bridge Venture Partners, Allen & Company, and SES as leading investors. Funding has also come from ING, CA-CIB, Dexia, DBSA, AFDB, DEG, Proparco, FMO, IFC and EAIF, as well as the Development Bank of Southern Africa, Sofina and Satya Capital.

Thales Alenia Space is currently constructing O3b’s first eight satellites and is using a system design that will allow O3b to add many more satellites to the constellation in the future in order to increase capacity. O3b’s satellites will be placed in orbit 8,000 kilometers from the earth, four times closer to the planet than regular geostationary satellites, which should give customers extremely low latency.

O3b will begin commercial service during the first half of 2013 following the planned launch of the first eight satellites by Arianespace with a Soyuz launcher from French Guiana. ViaSat will provide the teleport and trunking product customer terminals.

The brainchild of American entrepreneur Greg Wyler, who has rolled out fibre networks in Rwanda with his company Terracom, O3b Networks proposes to wirelessly connect markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, providing access to approximately 70 per cent of the world’s population with “fibre quality” internet connectivity.

While developed nations, particularly those in the northern hemisphere, are well served by an extensive submarine fibre network, the same is not true, in both a commercial and practical sense, of emerging markets. So O3b claims it can offer fibre performance over satellite links, at prices comparable to fibre in developed regions, as well as plugging directly into core networks and 3G cellular and WiMAX towers to change the economics of the telecommunications game in the world’s fastest growing markets. The company’s plan to have services available by 2013 means O3b’s offering could also play a significant role in harnessing technology and communications to help meet the UN Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015, according to supporters. The service could further bolster the strong growth of mobile data revenues in the Middle East.

Commenting on the launch date, Mark Rigolle, chief executive of O3b Networks said: “This news means that we are now truly on the map – our customers can be assured that O3b is a reality. Ever since Greg Wyler founded O3b in 2008, the company has enjoyed the support of a growing number of investors, customers and partners. This has allowed us to secure our funding and to achieve our goal of reaching the billions who have so far been poorly served or completely cut off from the internet – the greatest business and information resource of our time.”

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