Google pins hopes on satellite broadband to connect unwired markets header image

Published: 22nd Jun 2016

Google is pinning hopes on satellite broadband as a way to connect the world's remaining unwired markets.

People with knowledge of the company's plans told the Wall Street Journal yesterday (June 1st) that it had allocated more than $1 billion (£600 million) to efforts to bring broadband to remote regions via a fleet of 180 low-altitude satellites.

The scheme will be led by Greg Wyler, founder of O3b Networks, who joined Google following a recruitment drive that also landed him a team of between ten and 20 people to work on the satellites, the sources said.

Based on past projects of a similar nature, the search giant anticipates that technical challenges could cause the cost to spiral by another $2 million, they added.

Google isn't the only Silicon Valley company hoping to extend internet availability across vast swathes of the developing world. Facebook is attempting to do the same using high-altitude balloons, while Google has also acquired Titan Aerospace as part of a project to bring broadband to remote regions through solar-powered drones.

Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications, told the Wall Street Journal: "Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable.

She added: "Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access."

The potential of satellite broadband has been demonstrated by pioneering companies in Europe, where the technology has ensured that 100 per cent of the EU's population can now connect to high-speed internet.

Commercial operators have also won praise for competitive prices and excellent data transfer rates, with Point Topic in July 2013 claiming the case for satellite broadband had "reached a tipping point".

John Oliver, the company's chief executive, argued: "Satellite isn't just for those hard to reach areas any more - it's turning into a real competitor for bandwidth provision in a number of situations."