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New satellites aim to connect billions to the Internet

Posting in Design

O3b Networks successfully launched its first four satellites yesterday.

O3b, which stands for the "other three billion," is working to connect the three billion people who have very limited or no Internet access.

"In only a few years, we have designed and launched a revolutionary system; one that will transform the way communications are handled in many of the world’s underserved markets," said O3b Chairman John Dick, in a statement. "Working with our customers, O3b will open up a new and exciting world to billions of people who, up to now, have not experienced the benefits of fast Internet connectivity and who, as a result, are not on a level playing field.”

The company says that its network will be able to provide 70 percent of the world's population with "fiber quality internet connectivity" -- including most of South America, the Middle East, Asia and all of Africa and Australia.

But how is this different from other satellites providing Internet service? Phys.org reports:

Existing satellites generally obit at an altitude of some 36,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) above Earth, weigh in at a hefty four to six tonnes each, and take much longer to bounce a signal back to Earth—about 500 milliseconds to be exact, according to an O3b document.

"It is such a long delay that people speaking over a  link will shorten conversations, interactive web has an extremely poor experience and many web-based software programmes just won't function," it said.

The O3b satellites, built by the Franco-Italian company Thales Alenia Space, will orbit at 8,062 km and will weigh only 650 kilogrammes (1,400 pounds) each.

Meaning these satellites will communicate faster and, most importantly, they will be able to offer prices as much as 50 percent less than traditional satellites services.

A second group of four satellites will launch in September followed by the roll out of the company's service later in the year. As demand grows, the company says, the scalable system can easily accommodate more satellites.

Telecom Cook Islands will be the first customer to receive a commercial signal from the network.

Photo: O3b/Facebook

— By on June 26, 2013, 12:16 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure