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July 11, 2014

Rocket takes four satellites into orbit to provide ‘fibre from the sky’

Fast Internet beamed to emerging markets by low-orbiting sats.

By Ben Sullivan

Four satellites have successfully been carried into orbit aboard an Arianespace Soyuz rocket launched from French Guiana with the aim of connecting people in emerging markets to high speed Internet.

The company behind the satellites is O3b, an acronym for ‘the other three billion’, the market of unconnected customers the firm wants to reach.

O3b CEO Steve Collar said: "We are thrilled at the successful launch of our satellites. They will now go through a period of in-orbit testing before being fully integrated into our network as we continue to bring customers up across the world. The exciting O3b journey continues and we are already looking forward to our third launch early next year."

Installing fibreoptic cables is expensive and difficult in many emerging markets, but O3b’s fleet of sats aims to bring reduced-cost connections with low-orbit, low-latency communications that current geostationary internet-providing satellites, sitting at a higher orbit of 35,000 kilometres, cannot provide. O3b’s Ka-band satellites, built by prime contractor Thales Alenia Space, are to be positioned at a medium-orbit altitude of approximately 8,062 kilometres.

Four satellites were previously launched last summer, and in March, they connected the remote Pacific Cook Islands to faster Internet.

Jules Maher, CEO, Telecom Cook Islands, said: "O3b delivered on its promise to bring "fibre from the sky" and our isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is no longer an impediment to accessing the World Wide Web.

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"Our customers are not only experiencing faster internet speeds but now also have an endless choice of multi-media telecommunications services at their fingertips. I have already had reports from those experiencing instantaneous downloads, smooth YouTube clips, streaming live sport, movies, clear and crisp video calling and ultra-fast fast browsing for the first time ever. The fibre-like speed has been mind-blowing. O3b’s ‘fiber from the sky’ is a reality for us here in the Cook Islands."

Last month, Google successfully used one of its giant helium-filled balloons to deliver mobile internet to a school in Brazil.

In the week of the project’s one year anniversary, a ‘Loon’ connected a school called Linoca Gayosa to the internet for the first time ever, and is the first case of Google successfully testing its LTE delivery.

Project Loon, started by Google in June 2013, uses fleets of helium balloons that fly at an altitude twice that of a commercial airliner to circumnavigate the globe beaming mobile internet to rural areas. By next June, Google hopes to have a fleet of 300 to 400 Loons which can stay aloft for over 100 days delivering internet connections worldwide in hard to reach areas.

Facebook is also said to be in acquisition talks with drone makers, as the company looks for ways to connect emerging markets to the Internet.


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