O3b doubles network size with satellite launch

Emerging markets-focused satellite operator O3b Networks has announced the successful launch of its latest constellation of satellites. Four satellites were launched from the Space Center in French Guiana at the end of last week.

The four satellites will join an existing constellation of four that were launched in June 2013. With and extended network O3b will soon be able to offer service worldwide. To date, the operator, which counts Google among its investors, has been quiet on customers. The company did say it has been working with Telecom Cook Islands since launch to validate the system performance since launch and the customer has also initiated full commercial operation in the Cook Islands over the O3b fleet. Islanders in the region are now experiencing connection speeds comparable with fibre for the first time ever, the company said.

O3b CEO Steve Collar said the newest satellites “will now go through a period of in-orbit testing before being fully integrated into our network as we continue to bring customers up across the world…we are already looking forward to our third launch early next year.”

Google began investing in O3b Networks, a satellite operator focusing on markets in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, back in 2008 but has remained silent on its reasoning. However it’s thought that the internet giant has designs on bringing connectivity to hard to reach or low density population areas through a variety of means.

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Last month, Google acquired Seattle-based wireless tech startup Alpental Technologies in a somewhat mysterious transaction. Formed by a couple of ex-Clearwire engineers, it is known however that Alpental specialises in wireless connectivity in the 60GHz and above band, which specifically covers millimetre wave. Whilst suitable for high bandwidth applications the concentration of the beam is so narrow that it is not useful for providing wide coverage.

Then there’s the 2013 unveiling of Project Loon, sees the company embarking on an ambitious project to provide wireless internet connectivity to hard to reach or extremely rural areas using helium-filled balloons.

Project Loon will see Google releasing specialised weather balloons into the stratosphere to float at around 20km above the Earth’s surface. The balloons are naturally moved around the Earth by winds and can be steered by elevating or descending to an altitude at which the winds are moving in the desired direction.


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