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Google spending $1bn on satellite broadband access for emerging markets

Google is reportedly planning to launch 180 low orbit satellites as part of a project to boost internet connectivity in poorer areas of the world. 

The search giant reportedly plans to provide access to everyone in the world who isn’t already on the grid, much like how satellite broadband in the UK is connecting remote and poorly-served regions virtually everywhere.

Sources told the Wall Street Journal that Google plans to spend between $1bn and $3bn on the internet satellites. 

Google to launch 180 satellites in $1billion project to bring internet to the undeveloped world
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The project is being led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications startup O3b Networks. Google has also been hiring engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral to work on the project. O3b gets its name from the term ‘other 3 billion people‘ who lack broadband. 

O3b Networks says that it specialises in providing high capacity, low latency backhaul, with the last mile connection provided by 2G, 3G or LTE – unlike satellite broadband in the UK, which delivers connectivity directly to customers’ homes through satellite dishes. It’s not clear how Google plans to use O3b’s satellites to provide broadband access for everyone. 

The satellite endeavour is an extension of Project Loon, which uses high altitude balloons to bring Internet connectivity to remote areas of New Zealand. In April, Google bought Titan Aerospace, which is working on using solar-powered drones to provide internet connectivity. 

The project rivals Facebook’s Connectivity Lab project, which plans to use drones, satellites and lasers to achieve a similar goal of giving everyone in the world basic Internet access. 

The idea behind the project is to bring companies such as Google and Facebook a new stream of users, which it hopes will boost revenues and earnings. 

The plan has some way to go as the firm will need regulatory approval to launch the satellites as well as to  coordinate with other satellite providers to avoid interference with other satellites. 

Should Google succeed, it would “amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet, from the Third World,” Jeremy Rose, from London-based satellite consultant firm Comsys, told The Wall Street Journal. 

Image: O3b Networks

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