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Monday, June 2, 2014

Google to Spend $1B on a Fleet of 180 Satellites Providing Internet Access to Remote Areas

As reported by Market Watch: Details remain in flux, the people said, but the project will start with 180 small, high-capacity satellites orbiting the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and then could expand.

Google’s satellite venture is led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications startup O3b Networks Ltd., who recently joined Google with O3b’s former chief technology officer, the people said. Google has also been hiring engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral LLC to work on the project, according to another person familiar with the hiring initiative.  

The projected price ranges from about $1 billon to more than $3 billion, the people familiar with the project said, depending on the network’s final design and a later phase that could double the number of satellites. Based on past satellite ventures, costs could rise.

Google’s project is the latest effort by a Silicon Valley company to extend Internet coverage from the sky to help its business on the ground. Google and Facebook Inc. are counting on new Internet users in underserved regions to boost revenue, and ultimately, earnings.

“Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable,” said Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications Inc., a satellite-communications research firm. “Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access.”

Google also is hoping to take advantage of advances in antennas that can track multiple satellites as they move across the sky. Antennas developed by companies including Kymeta Corp. have no moving parts and are controlled by software, which reduces manufacturing and maintenance costs.

This isn't Google's first attempt at connecting remote parts of the world, last year's Project Loon saw Google launch 30 balloons that offer 3G-like speeds in the areas of New Zealand that have no Internet connection.  The satellite project is a possible extension of Project Loon.  Google's Internet balloons have been recently linked to UFO reports.

Google also recently purchased drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace to deliver high-altitude solar-powered drones that can stay airborne for five years at a time.

Facebook is also challenging for space in the unconnected world with its own project, which is being run by its Connectivity Lab.  In a statement earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook wants to "beam Internet to people from the Sky" and that his goal is to bring "affordable access to basic Internet services available to every person in the world".

Facebook has been hoarding experts and companies to turn this idea into reality.  It has been working with scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and Ames Research Center.  There's also the UK-based solar-powered drone company Ascenta, which Facebook recently purchased as part of its Internet org initiative.