back to article Google goes after 3 billion with super satellite

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. …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    Shares in rocket to teh moon

  2. dervheid

    Is there any...

    fucking room LEFT in Earth Orbit for MORE satellites?

    If we chuck up enough, maybe we can use them to combat *global warming* whilst we're at it!

    Too many satellites. It's why the aliens have stopped coming. Amanfrommars was the last one to get past the gridlock.

  3. Repo

    Eh? What priorities?

    So it's going to cost $60m to $600m to provide internet access to people in Central Africa and the Middle East???

    A large percentage of those do not have clean water, working hospitals, freedom of speech, respite from civil war and/or oppression (if not outright genocide), access to anti AIDS medication, food or job opportunities.

    But hey, at least they'll be able to read about how many of their family got slaughtered last week by the Islamic militants / the US Airforces' latest cock up ...

    ... or at least they would if the could afford to buy a PC ...

    ... which they wouldn't be able to use anyway not having any electricity ...

  4. Stephen Channell
    Black Helicopters

    Osama bin Chrome

    Note to google: when Osama bin Laden goes browsing on google maps, make a not of his home location and send it to the spooks along with all the other information you send about Chrome users.

    With luck, they’ll show more interest in that then searches for Ralf Nalar

  5. James Bassett

    So how many

    satelites would it take for them to supply decent Internet speeds to those of us Brits who don't live within 2km of their local exchange or choose not to live in large towns and cities (may their souls be eternally damned)?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    With good edge caching...

    With good content caching at the ISP level the backhaul latency won't be an issue for stuff like web traffic but for VoIP and suchlike it will still be pretty rubbish. What's the intended market for this anyway? Are the 'other 3 billion' just going to be connected and left at that (so they can start trying to scam the western world with phishing etc) or are they going to be offered targetted services to enable them to make use of the connection? The recent cable provider bubble saturated the cable market for all but the most stubbornly unconnected areas so providing a gift from space is unlikely to create a need that is not already there. Add to this the cost of copper at the moment and it is unlikely that anyone will want to lay much of that. Now if they make XO mesh compatible uplink stations then there might be a use for it!!

  7. Anonymous Coward

    iridium anyone

    Google could probably get a good deal on a slightly used Iridium system that Motorola put up in the 90's. Too bad by the time they designed, built, and got it flying their 2400 BPS data rates seemed pitifully behind the times. But still 2400 baud would be enough to dribble your email and better than "two tin cans with a string" if only slightly.

    Only a company with such gobs of discretionary income like Google could afford to pour money into something like this.

  8. John Browne

    16 satelites?

    16 satelites for 3billion people. Thats a contention ratio of , 187,500,000 to 1. That sort of ratio would put even BT to shame.

    Your data may be quicker walking.

  9. Richard Kay


    "So it's going to cost $60m to $600m to provide internet access to people in Central Africa and the Middle East???"

    Divided between 3 billion people living close enough to the equator that's a princely 2 to 20 cents per person.

    "A large percentage of those do not have clean water, working hospitals, freedom of speech, respite from civil war and/or oppression (if not outright genocide), access to anti AIDS medication, food or job opportunities."

    So how does denying them access to the Internet help them with any of these things?

    "... or at least they would if the could afford to buy a PC .. which they wouldn't be able to use anyway not having any electricity ..."

    The cost and electricity consumption of a usable net-connected computer based on Moore's law gets cheaper by the year. You probably wouldn't think so based on the idea that everyone who is yet to use a PC has to have the bloat and cost that goes with Vista forced down their throats. But it's not an idea I agree with.

  10. Stephen Gray
    Thumb Up

    @ Repo

    Good points, well made.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Return path

    They'll still need a PSTN service for return path so the web page knows you've clicked on something - else how can you interact?... if that needs to be in place, you can get 512 Mbit/s broadband on the same wires. Am I missing something ?

  12. vincent himpe

    time to ..

    tighten the spam filters...

  13. The BigYin

    Comeptition Commission?

    Google control searching

    Google control browsing (well, they want to)

    Google control content (their "services")

    Google control media (advertising, video etc)

    Google now wish to control infrastructure

    Next week, Google control truth.

    They are too big and becoming worse than Microsoft.

  14. joe K
    Thumb Down


    @Repo, Stephen and co. : There are two separate issues here. Is internet access is relevant to those millions of people. The answer is yes. As a first world techie you've probably never seen how transforming and powerful the internet can be when it fulfils the roles of knowledge delivery and communication. From nurses in remote communities being able to research medical complications online, secondary school students being able to go to a local internet cafe, albeit at a cost, to print an up to date periodic table of elements, disadvantaged people using online press to put forward and debate their issues, there are so many benefits of internet access that you seem to take for granted. A lot of East and central African countries are trying to collaborate on shared fibre backbone links, but funding has been a struggle for them. If Western corporations who have easier access to finding by whatever means are able to make such an investment, charitable or not, it will definitely transform the lives of millions of people. Its only $600m, the US spends that in Iraq in 3 days only.

    I really abhor statements like the one you made, it stinks of hypocrisy. While $600m could feed 30m people for a month, it could alternately be used to provide internet access to 600 million people for 20 years and both are valid priorities.

  15. Charles


    1. That's assuming these people actually have electric power (not guaranteed) and the technical know-how to actually use the Internet (also not guaranteed).

    2. Priorities, my friend. Just as you gotta stand before you can walk, so too should one be concerned about getting dinner and a drink (since you can *die* from lack thereof) over getting the latest articles. That being said, perhaps using it in a more limited sense to help propagate information on a community-to-community basis (like a modern-day telegraph) has better potential and intrinsic use.

    3. OLPC still hasn't reached critical mass yet. I wonder why...

  16. Chris G

    600.000.000 bucks

    Fuck of a lot of rice and corn seed! Well said Repo!

  17. Malcolm Weir Silver badge


    Yes, there's room. These are intended for LEO, which has the advantage that the orbits decay and the satellites eventually burn up (unlike GEO, where they just sit around). LEO is typically something in the 160km to 2000km altitude range, but for comms satellites, something greater than 500km is normal.

    So let's take an altitude of 500km; with a earth diameter of 12,740km, that gives an orbital diameter of 13740km, and thus an orbital circumference of 43,165km. USSTRATCOM is currently tracking ~8500 objects larger than 10cm in size in LEO, which gives an average of one object every 5km or so.

    Given the relative sizes of the objects involved, and the fact that everything is moving in the same direction, this is rather better than we expect for airliners over the ocean...


  18. Craig McCormick
    Thumb Down

    @ Repo

    Well put. My thoughts exactly, by the time I'd gotten a couple of paragraphs into the article.

    It all smacks of forward planning. "Get our claws in while it's cheap, then, when somebody else has sorted out the poverty/health/famine problems over there and there's some money around, we'll reap the rewards of our early investments." Same with the rivals to the OLPC project. Maybe even OLPC themselves, if I'm gonna be really cynical.

    Why provide computing and internet facilities to a areas where there are far more pressing matters to attend to? Chuck $600M at those problems, then these people can live and after you've then invested in the technology infrastructure, you'll be able to make them your paying customers.

    Surely that's a slightly better philosophy?

  19. Evil Mike


    Arming oneself with information can always improve your situation.

    That, and you should challenge your own assumptions as to their "poverty."

    I would lay even money that your idea of their pure lack of basic necessities is dead wrong.

  20. John Savard


    Internet access could address very valid priorities in the poor parts of the world. People in remote areas could consult books on first aid and medicine, on agriculture and pest control, and so on, over the Internet.

    Since they're selling scientific pocket calculators that draw graphs for $15 in the stores, something that is powered by a hand-crank generator and provides text-mode Internet access could probably be made at a price well below the OLPC level, too, but I suspect this won't happen; instead, the OLPC will be the minimum standard, although it's far above, say, a 386 with Windows 3.1, which is really 'all you need' for basic graphical Internet access.

  21. Brandon

    hmm.... my thoughts too...

    I know if I had to choose between a toilet and the internet, I'd definitely choose the internet. What would I do without theReg every day?

  22. Chris G

    @ Evil Mike

    You may well be a complete tit! For the whole of sub Saharan Africa the average income per capita is currently less than two dollars US per month. If that's not poverty what is? 600 million dollars put into agricultural research and teaching would change the lives of most Africans and create a little more wealth, then maybe they would be more able to appreciate the benefits of Google's ads.

  23. Treacle

    With the Internet... can research an effective composting toilet, and solve your problem yourself.

    As to all you saying "let's throw the $600m at more (GMO?) rice and corn" ... maybe, just maybe giving people in a tough patch access to high-quality information will actually help more than mere handouts. The bright light of media access might quell the wars that are causing many of the problems that food handouts are not solving.

    Local intelligent actions, --mutual aid and voluntary cooperation among those facing the same situations--, may well enable people to take advantage of permaculture innovations, build multi-machines for manufacture (look it up), and eventually leapfrog the so-called "developed" world in terms of self-organization and democracy. Far far more than throwing rice and plumpy-nut after guns.

    Yes, let's keep shipping the plumpy-nut and UN peacekeepers ... but Google is known for it's technology skills, not it's food-logistics capabilities. Seems a no-brainer to allow those with the skills to help in the way that they can. Address all fronts at once, n'est-ce pas?

  24. Nick

    That'll come in useful...

    ...when Google launches its SuperDataCentreTankers. Satellites circling the earth in the sky, Ships circling the ocean - hang on, are we sure Google isn't a respected front end company for Dr Brin's and Mini-Page's Evil Empire?

  25. Simon Kingston

    @Repo, etc

    You seem to have not realised that the mainstream media's reporting of Africa is very biased; while stories of famine and poverty are widely covered, the many positive aspects of Africa get very little, if any, coverage.

    As someone who runs a software company in equatorial Africa, I can assure you that there would be demand for a system like this. While the coastal regions of Africa are increasingly well-connected (see EASSy cable, etc), there are still too few cables running inland and so large parts of the continent are still not well connected. However, there are significant numbers of wealthy individuals and organisations (trading and financial companies, large NGOs, etc) who would have the means to subscribe to such a satellite-based system and for whom the benefits would be great.

    > Why provide computing and internet facilities to a areas where there are far more pressing matters to attend to?

    Constantly handing out aid does not work. Africa will only pull itself out of poverty by building up its industry and trading internationally. In order to achieve that, improving the continent's infrastructure - including internet access - is vital.

  26. Repo

    @Richard Kay, Joe K

    I'm not suggesting that we deny anyone anything, I'm talking about priorities. And, after several years project managing in 0-16 Education I know all about the power of information.

    $600m spent* on infrastructure (pump priming investments, healthcare, education, credible justice systems, peacekeeping forces and so on) will do more to benefit the regions in the long term than the opportunity to read spam. I'm not denying of course that information, however delivered, is a vital part of this.

    Do you think Google is spending this money out of the goodness of it's own heart? Nope, it's an advertising company investing in a marketing infrastructure. The people in the areas concerned don't need targeted adverts or people who can paraphrase charity TV adverts; they need a stable and sustainable future.

    * and I mean genuine expediture, not the padding of someones Swiss bank account

  27. Matty

    What they really want....

    I'm sure they'd prefer food than bb.

  28. Repo

    @John Savard:

    "Arming oneself with information can always improve your situation."

    Unless of course you have an Arab militia with 40mm guns welded onto the back of pickup trucks running around after you, in which case an RPG-7 is a much better idea!

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Putting to one side the issue of satellites vs food etc

    I thought WiMax was the dogs thingummies for Internet access in traditionally Internet-inaccessible places. Or was that last year, and WiMax is now pointless?

  30. joe K


    You do seem genuinely concerned, but as someone else pointed out, the Western bias towards reporting negative stories emanating from the third world means that unless you have been on the ground and seen the way people live you would not be able to correctly assess what they need.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ...Google does something shifty, and everyone says, "SEE! Google are bastards! Down with Google!" ...and Google planes to give away free internet access to the third world, and everyone says, "They must have some ulterior motive to take over the universe! BASTARDS!"

    Is there anything Google could do to make Reg readers happy, aside from roll over and die, leaving the world to search with MSN and the rapidly-cooling corpse of Yahoo?

    I suppose there's always

  32. Randall Churchill

    Questionable math on latency figures

    I am wondering how the author came up with latency figures of 1/2 second for geostationary and 1/20th of a second for low earth orbit? A round trip to geostationary orbit (36,000 km) should take 1/4 second rather than the 1/2 second the author claims it would take for a one way trip. A round trip for a low earth orbit sat (200-2000KM) assuming it was overhead at the time and taking the high end of the orbit range of 2000 KM would require roughly 1/75th of a second rather than a twentieth.

    If starvation is something we might like to mitigate, perhaps we ought to stop subsidizing food production in wealthy nations so third world people can actually earn a living growing food. BY law, when the US ships food aid around the world, it is mainly food grown in the US, subsidized by taxpayers. Perhaps if we paid third world farmers to produce food rather than force them out of business via subsidies for wealthy nation farmers, starvation might not be such an issue?

  33. Stephen Gray
    Paris Hilton

    Well thats me told

    I was going to help build a well but now I just need to send them a MacBook Air.

  34. Dale

    @Malcolm Weir

    Malcolm, your calculations only hold if all 8500 objects orbit in the same plane and at the same altitude, which they don't. They're all over the place, hence the average spacing between objects is significantly wider than 5km. Which is just as well because 5km is hella close for the dude floating around in his space shuttle.

    And GEO satellites' orbits also decay just like LEOs', which is why both classes have boosters to occasionally lift them when they have decayed too far. Eventually their fuel runs out, hopefully at the end of their design life, and they fall back to Earth. The special property of GEO satellites is just that they travel at the same angular velocity as the ground below, so they stay in the same relative position in the sky and you don't have to keep moving your antenna. They aren't immune to the effects of gravity. For that you will want to look up Lagrange points.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Now everyone go back and re-read the article!

    There is no need for PSTN or copper etc... the plan is to use 3G wireless connectivity for the users. With the instability in these regions investment in wired infrastructure is risky (the copper is worth more than many of these people could earn in 2 or 3 years). So these regions are rapidly adopting the latest wireless technologies (there's little in the way of legacy wired infrastructure to compete with) as a way of promoting economic development (Google et al understand this and figure that by investing now they will establish their brand in these regions so they extract larger profits later).

    So while this sort of investment doesn't help these people immediately, it is the economic development that it enables that should hopefully help them in the longer term. Of course that's little comfort to those dying now from lack of food, clean drinking water or access to basic medical treatment.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

    OK, it's MEO, not LEO so that clears up the latency,

    Secondly, it's a commercial operation so O3b and Google are not planning to offer free internet access in exchange for viewing some carefully selected messages. In any case it's mainly targeted at providing backhaul for contended Mobile access networks (GSM,HSPA+, LTE, WhyMAX whatever) not individual users.

    Thirdly, it only covers upto 45 degrees N or S, so here in 'the frozen North' near Toronto I'm covered but you poor folks in the UK at 51 degrees N, sorry but it's BT / VM duopoly all the way!

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