Google's Satellite Connection

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O3b Networks, whose cofounder heads Google's satellite venture, brings real-time connectivity to ships and drilling platforms in remote sea locations.

Google's final frontier?
Google's final frontier?

Google's new satellite venture could eventually deliver marketers real-time connectivity with potential customers--no matter where on Earth they're located.

Greg Wyler, who heads up Google's space project, is the cofounder of O3b Networks, a company whose satellites allow oil company drilling platforms to be in touch with the mainland, cruise ship passengers to be in touch with home, and governments to be in touch with its agents in real time. In addition, O3b claims the quickest connection times due to the closer proximity of its satellites.

Most geosynchronous (GEO) satellites operate about 36,000 kilometers away from Earth, and their round-trip data transmission times exceed 500 milliseconds. O3b's broadband orbiters skim the Equator from an altitude of only 8,062 kilometers, reducing transmission times to about 150 milliseconds. Some other facts about O3b satellites:

  • Their improved proximity allows Web users to download pages four times as quickly as they can via GEO connections.
  • They use parabolic antennas suited to handle large chunks of data.
  • They fly an equatorial orbit to widen planetary reach. Just six satellites are needed to achieve global coverage.
  • Space is not yet crowded at 8,062km, so expansion of satellites and coverage into that orbit is faster and easier.

That orbit figures to become more crowded soon, as Google adds satellites to balloons and drones in its mission to cover the globe. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Google's aim is to reach the two thirds of the world with no Internet access and add hundreds of millions of users. It noted that Google, an early investor in O3b, intends to eventually launch numerous satellites weighing only about 250 pounds. Currently, the average O3b satellite weighs about 1,500 pounds.

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