Satellite Internet space race heats up
The latest announcement from Facebook (Menlo Park, CA) is part of the company’s Internet.org initiative to use drones and satellites to expand Internet service to billions of people around the globe who currently have no access. While drones – and in Google’s case, balloon-powered Internet – are being looked at as providing part of the solution, the latest announcement appears to be representative of a new focus on looking at using satellites to achieve this goal.
In Facebook’s case, the company is partnering with French satellite communications provider Eutelsat to deliver Internet from space. Broadband Internet service would be provided to West, East and Southern Africa using Eutelsat’s AMOS-6 geostationary satellite, which is expected to launch sometime in mid-2016.
Facebook isn’t alone in its satellite Internet ambitions. Several other recent projects have also begun moving forward. For example, OneWeb – a London-based consortium backed by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson – announced earlier this year that it had raised $500 million toward its plans to launch a constellation of satellites to provide low-cost broadband Internet to global consumers as early as 2019.
OneWeb is looking to use about 700 satellites operating in low-earth orbit (LEO) – an approach that offers advantages over more traditional geostationary satellites that orbit the earth at a much greater distance. LEO satellites offer the potential for lower cost and faster connections.
A similar approach is being looked at by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Early this year SpaceX (Hawthorne, CA) raised $1 billion from Google and financial firm Fidelity Investments with a goal of supporting plans to ultimately launch 4,000 LEO satellites to help provide inexpensive Internet access to people around the world – and even, eventually, on Mars.
Another LEO satellite Internet effort, this one aimed at business, is moving forward by satellite operator LeoSat (Fort Lauderdale, FL). Backed by Europe’s Thales Alenia Space, the company plans to build a constellation of 78 to 108 small "high-throughput" LEO satellites for use by industries worldwide. Launch of the constellation is expected by 2020.
Finally, Samsung has recently indicated interest in using LEO satellites to provide global Internet connectivity. In a paper titled "Mobile Internet from the Heavens", president of Samsung Research America Farooq Khan shows how affordable high-speed Internet service could be provided to the entire world using 4,600 low-cost micro satellites. The company has not yet announced any definite plans on the proposal.