According to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, Google plans to spend more than $1 billion to launch a fleet of satellites to bring internet access to unwired parts of the planet.
While details of the project may change, those familiar with Google's satellite plans explained that the project will start with 180 small, high-capacity satellites that will orbit Earth lower than traditional satellites. The project is being led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite startup O3b Networks. Google participated in a $1.2 billion funding round for the startup back in 2010. O3b takes its name from the term "other 3 billion people" who lack broadband access for a variety of reasons including geography, political instability, and economics. O3b currently has four satellites in orbit and is set to launch four more in July. The Journal report claims that Google's satellite plan could cost between $1 billion and $3 billion.
News of Google's plans follow a report from Space News that L5/WorldVu, a Channel Islands company backed by both Google and O3b Networks, had acquired Ku band spectrum. This spectrum was previously allocated to the Skybridge project which planned to launch 360 small satellites for global broadband service. "This takes advantage of the FCC and international rulings secured by Skybridge in the late 1990s, which made over 3GHz of spectrum available for [non-geostationary satellite orbit] Ku-band systems, so long as they avoid interfering with satellites along the geostationary arc," explained Tim Farrar of satellite-consulting firm TMF Associates. Farrar told the Journal that this satellite project will likely replace Google's Project Loon initiative. Facebook is also working on its own projects to connect the next billion people with satellites, drones, and lasers.
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