Google has hooked up with Liberty Global and HSBC Principle Investments to start funding a satellite network aimed at connecting the three billion people who still can't get access to the internet, at least those living near the equator.
O3b, standing for the "Other 3 Billion", has raised $60m from Google, Liberty and HSBC. However, they'll need ten times that to fulfill the ambition of 16 satellites offering gigabitspeeds to service providers in central Africa and the Middle East, without the latency usually incurred in space-based internet access.
The initial phase will be half that number, and is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2010. Latency is reduced by putting the satellites in a low-earth orbit, less than a twentieth of a second away at light speed as opposed to the half second needed to reach geostationary orbit.
Web giant Google, international cable holding company Liberty Global and Europe's biggest bank HSBC are backing plans to provide low-cost, broadband internet access via satellite to billions in Africa and other emerging markets. O3b Networks, whose mission strapline is ‘Connecting the other three billion’, will provide high-speed backhaul for telecoms operators and internet providers, which can then provide services to businesses and consumers more cheaply than currently possible. O3b Networks said in a statement 16 satellites would be constructed by Thales Alenia Space and should be operational by the end of 2010.
The company's founder, Greg Wyler, told Reuters coverage would span around 150 countries, stretching from Spain to South Africa, and include most of South America, large parts of Asia and all South Pacific Islands. The project intends to offer ‘fibre performance’ over satellite to parts of the world where it is not commercially viable or practical to deploy a fibre network. The project is expected to cost USD650 million until the launch, he said. Initial equity of USD65 million has been raised, but the final mix of debt and equity has not been set. Wyler is no stranger to Africa. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database he founded Rwandan ISP Terracom in early 2000s, which went on to acquire the state owned incumbent Rwandatel in 2004. However the relationship between Terracom and the Rwandan government broke down and in August last year the state repurchased the telco for USD11.9 million; it later sold 80% of the company to Libya’s LAP Green Networks for USD100 million.