At 12:27pm PT Tuesday, four new communications satellites developed by O3b left the ground in French Guiana, riding atop a Soyuz rocket bound for medium-Earth orbit. Those for birds will make half of O3b’s new broadband network, designed to deliver internet connectivity to the world’s most underserved population.
I went into many of the specifics of O3b’s satellite constellation in a profile post Monday, but in a nutshell it’s not like any of the other mobile phone or broadband networks up above the Earth today. It’s 5,000 miles above the surface, which it puts it far closer to its customers than the big geostationary satellites far above it. That means it can deliver much lower-latency services like voice and real-time communications – its signals have a much shorter distance to travel.
While O3b can’t link everyone in the world to broadband, the project stands a good chance of connecting many of the world’s unconnected. That’s probably what attracted Google to the project when it invested in the startup back in 2008. Though O3b has been forced to scale back its plans somewhat, it network will likely become a key component of Google’s plan to bring the internet to billions of new people – along with Project Loon and its work in white spaces broadband. O3b, after all, stands for the “other 3 billion.”
O3b will have to wait until this fall to activate its network. The initial constellation will be a grid of eight daisy-chained satellites passing signals back and forth as they circle the equator. O3b plans to launch four more satellites in September, and it has another four under construction.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the lift-off was at 10:27am AM