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Satellites Providing Internet To the 'Under-Connected'

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the bring-cat-pictures-to-all-corners-of-the-world dept.

Space 50

Taco Cowboy writes "Today, a Russian Soyuz rocket shot the first 4 of 12 satellites in a new constellation that are designed to provide affordable, high-speed Internet to people in nearly 180 'under-connected' countries. The orbiters, part of a project dubbed O3b for the 'other 3 billion' people with restricted Internet access, were built by the Franco-Italian company Thales Alenia Space. They will orbit at 8,062 km and will weigh only 650 kilogrammes (1,400 pounds) each. 'There are already geostationary satellites providing this type of services, but at a prohibitive cost for many end-users. Existing satellites generally obit at an altitude of some 36,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) above Earth, weigh in at a hefty four to six tonnes each, and take much longer to bounce a signal back to Earth—about 500 milliseconds to be exact, according to an O3b document. "It is such a long delay that people speaking over a satellite link will shorten conversations, interactive web has an extremely poor experience and many web-based software programmes just won't function." Crucially, they will communicate with Earth four times faster, said the company, and six would be enough to assure permanent coverage. "O3b's prices will be 30 — 50 percent less than traditional satellite services," said the document. ... Launch company Arianespace, which will put the satellites in orbit, said the O3b constellation will combine "the global reach of satellite coverage with the speed of a fiber-optic network." ... The next four satellites will be launched within weeks, according to Arianespace, and a final four "backup" orbiters early next year.'"

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In space ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44108613)

... the gravitational field of this mass is next to none; whether it's 6 tonnes, 6 tons, or 6 gramounces.

Re:In space ... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44108647)

When you pay the bill to get a satellite into orbit, every gram matters.

Re:In space ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44108705)

He's referring to the "equivalent" in pounds, which, different from grams, measures weight and not mass (or am I wrong?) - i.e. it depends on gravity, hence wouldn't make sense in a zero-g ambient. Or maybe to the summary pointing out how much the satellite will "weight" in orbit, but if it's in orbit it has no weight.

Re: In space ... (1)

jdagius (589920) | about a year ago | (#44111421)

Objects "in orbit" around the Earth are actually falling freely to the Earth. But thanks to the very large horizontal component in their motion, orbiting objects always overshoot the horizon and thus stay in orbit.
Such objects have no "weight", because weight is defined as, F=mg, a force F exerted by an object with mass m in a gravity field g, resting on a surface preventing the object from falling freely.
The mass of an object is thus independent of gravity, but it's "weight" is just an artifact imposed by surface constraints, and can vary greatly.

Re:In space ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44119369)

And what's the point of posting that? Seems off-topic to me.

Micro satellite business seems hot right now (3, Interesting)

Camael (1048726) | about a year ago | (#44108665)

Here's another similar plan hatched by a Canadian company [phys.org] .

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (1, Flamebait)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about a year ago | (#44108739)

Similiar? Like how the canadians can launch 3.5x the satellites? Or that there are 10x more? Or how O3B is at an orbit 5x higher? Or how the canadians have more coverage and lower latency?

Or, wait, now I get it. Satellites right?

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (1)

rogueippacket (1977626) | about a year ago | (#44108757)

From the link:

The COMMStellation network would relieve the strain by providing much-needed “backhaul” capacity to mobile networks around the world.

Someone familiar with this needs to clarify - exactly - how a high-latency and unreliable (compared to fiber) network could be considered backhaul. They claim data rates of 12 Gbps per satellite, but what type of data do they intend to carry? Do they expect smartphones to be manufactured with satellite modems? Or is it common in other parts of the world to build an HSPA+/LTE tower fed by T1's?
Call me skeptical, but both of these projects just seem to be round peg/square hole. A much more reliable and suitable solution for rural areas could easily be had from a terrestrial wireless solution at a fraction of the cost and complexity.

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44109055)

Not sure what you meant by HSPA+/LTE towers fed by T1's - did you mean fed by the satellite network? That is what I would assume they will do. The problem is there is no backbone to hook the towers to, right?

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (1)

Herve5 (879674) | about a year ago | (#44120193)

Backhaul is probably exagerated, but the idea behind sats is that, if you manage to deploy them all, then their worldwide coverage allows you to reach way more customers than just 'your rural area'.
Indeed in O3B the B is for "billions", and these billions are not only "our other, poorer brothers" -they are actual billions of customers. Billions like in $Bn...
So, yes, having a space constellation is more efficient than just deploying lots of fibers locally, at least financially.

BUT there is a trick: I said above, "if you manage to deploy them all".

Which means, your initial investment is enormously higher than what's needed to progressively, calmy deploy fiber. Clearly it's a bet.
And a bet even more daring as you really need to get ALL your sats up and running, or at least the complete sublset required to ensure continuous coverage, so it's just not even a matter of launching the first ones, starting with first customers, and going on: nobody will sign for a connection 50% of the time. You must have them all up there, all launches paid and run, all payloads active.
That's what O3B is succeeding in currently (they deployed 4 at a time, they just need the next 4 and it'll be actually operational -and indeeed the next 4 are being finalized for next launch, in a matter of months.
In contrast, the Canadian company advocated above is, well, just a theory for now.
And as soon as O3B will be running, that will become a failed theory...

In satellite constellation design, all the art is optimizing the orbits, the separation between sats, the beam coverage and agility, in order to lower the number of sats and launches. That's why Thales launches them four at a time for instance, or why they have dozens of fastly-movable antennas on each spacecraft. It's an art. Choose the wrong datarate, the wrong antenna coverage or the wrong handover strategy, you end with a twice costlier system to deploy.
(in addition, Canadians were doubly handicapped as obviously they wanted a constellation reaching up to their latitudes, so highly inclined : just more sats. O3B wisely aims only at "roughly equatorial" populations (up to 45 latitude anyhow), and by avoiding higher latitudes indeed they save a lot: less sats, and easier to launch with this.)

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (1)

rogueippacket (1977626) | about a year ago | (#44121763)

Thank you for this. I wish I could give you mod points.

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (2)

sortius_nod (1080919) | about a year ago | (#44108993)

I'd be hesitant to believe anything from O3b after they demanded a ban on National Broadband Network satellites here in Australia. They are an hostile company doing this to exploit people in a monopoly environment, not aid them.

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44111657)

I'd be hesitant to believe anything from O3b after they demanded a ban on National Broadband Network satellites here in Australia. They are an hostile company doing this to exploit people in a monopoly environment, not aid them.

Given that you only need to get about 50km outside of the cities and main highways in Australia before you're completely screwed for Cable or DSL internet access, I'm rather glad they are providing satellite coverage to Australia. Anything to shove it up Telstra's arse and stop them charging over-the-top prices for shitty satellite connections with measly 5GB/month caps. Fuck you, Telstra!

Re:Micro satellite business seems hot right now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44115501)

That project is dead in the water. At least these guys are launching satellites.

Satelite? Pfff.. that's such an old technology. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44108667)

I prefer something like Loon.. http://www.google.com/loon/

Re:Satelite? Pfff.. that's such an old technology. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44113377)

Satellites are old technology and balloons are new technology??? You should sue your history teachers for malpractice. There were no satellites except the moon until I was five years old. Balloons have been flying since before 280 AD. Zhuge Liang of the Shu Han kingdom, in the Three Kingdoms era (220-280 AD) used airborne lanterns for military signaling. These lanterns are known as Kongming lanterns. Manned balloons have been flying as early as 1709.

Satellites Providing Internet (1)

fpabd.tk (2815503) | about a year ago | (#44108703)

Satellites Providing Internet.. man That's So Cool.. Wish our country would able to get that service ..

In space ... (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#44108789)

... no one can hear your investors scream.

Teledesic [wikipedia.org] , Iridium [wikipedia.org] , Globalstar [wikipedia.org] , Orbcomm [wikipedia.org]

Re:In space ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109259)

This is significantly less ambitious though, in all aspects from number of satellites to their orbiting altitude. Doesn't mean it will be successful but at least they're not setting out for World Domination from the get go.

Re:In space ... (1)

JMJimmy (2036122) | about a year ago | (#44109381)

Or highly successful ones like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telesat [wikipedia.org]

Re:In space ... (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44111045)

Geostationary sats are exactly what they're trying to avoid.

Re:In space ... (4, Interesting)

stephanruby (542433) | about a year ago | (#44109535)

... no one can hear your investors scream.

The private investors are just the public face of this venture.

Their accounts receivables are insured against loss by the French government. This is a way for the French government to partially subsidize its own aerospace industry (in this case, the satellites are made by a French and an Italian joint effort), and at the same it's a way to control which war lords/governments in Congo, Ivory Coast, Mali, or Syria get free satellite internet access, and which war lords/governments in those parts of the world do not.

In other words, this infrastructure is a way to buy yourself some influence in those parts of the world (where French influence has been slowly shrinking otherwise).

Re:In space ... (1)

Herve5 (879674) | about a year ago | (#44120235)

Let's not exagerate.
French government indeed probably helped its industry through an export insurance scheme that somehow, in certain conditions, will allow Thales (the sat builder) not to die if the exchange rate become very wrong -but that's all they did, and the US are doing exactly the same now (they just started this kind of change insurance trick after France)

So, "yes and no": yes French gov.t (like now the US) found a way to insure export change rates, which helped Thales winning the O3B contract here.
But no, there just isn't such a think as hidden french influence bought in Africa: O3B is simply not a french company -indeed I think the CEO is american: actually it may well turn into an US way of influencing Africa if any :-D

And back to Thales, they also didn't just miraculously win thanks to their gov.t help: they are also the *only* company having developed, and deployed, three other constellations: Globalstar 1, Globalstar 2, and Iridium. So, they know the art, and the others don't.
You can call this almost a monopoly if you hate France so much, but it's a monopoly they managed to build. By themselves.

Re:In space ... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44111021)

... no one can hear your investors scream.

Teledesic [wikipedia.org] , Iridium [wikipedia.org] , Globalstar [wikipedia.org] , Orbcomm [wikipedia.org]

If God wanted us to communicate via satellites, he'd give us faster photons.

Re:In space ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44111801)

Hmm... since when do we use lasers for uplink/downlink?

Re:In space ... (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44111831)

Why would you use lasers when you have microwaves?

Re:In space ... (1)

turtlewax (1086107) | about a year ago | (#44137703)

I'm pretty sure he was referring to latency due to speed of light limitations. Satellite internet has very high latency, and there is no fixing it. 22,000 miles up, then 22,500 miles down

PROOOOOOOWONNNN IN SPPPPPACEEEE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44108985)

Woooooooooohooo - now the UN-privelidge can stream PRON all night

#irc.7rolltalk.com (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109109)

Finally! (2)

sgt scrub (869860) | about a year ago | (#44109115)

I was wondering when bandwidth would be available to those of us that live south of downtown.

Re:Finally! (1)

PP Parkenfarker (2964071) | about a year ago | (#44110651)

Yes, those of us in the third world (Canada) may actually be able to view Youtube soon.

Re:Finally! (2)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about a year ago | (#44112467)

Yes, those of us in the third world (Canada) may actually be able to view Youtube soon.

Too far norh.

This is for the other 3 billion.

Do these places have TV and Radio (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109149)

Do the "Other Three Billion" really not have TV and radio? It seems like it'd be a lot more reliable to license space at existing antenna sites. Yeah you have to visit a lot of mountains and towers; but the whole thing isn't riding on a few space shots, and local companies could do it for you then you just grow by acquiring the local companies. I knew a guy who was doing this in rural Maryland. It's called a WISP. He did it for a few $100 to cover a few dozen people. It might have even made a small profit; but AFAIK he was more concerned about just getting connectivity for himself and his neighbors. He was a bank official and had bigger fish to fry.

Re:Do these places have TV and Radio (1)

duiwel (1758406) | about a year ago | (#44111123)

I work for a bit of a larger WISP then what your friend was doing. The business model and technology we use would be great in third world countries. WISPs have been around for a good chunk of time now, so there's a lot of tech around from the first couple generations of equipment that affordable and well documented. And you don't even need an established antenna site, there are tons of military surplus and commercial mobile tower rigs out there.

Project Loon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109299)

Who needs satellites when we have Google's balloons providing internet to the whole world?

Project Loon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109417)

Google is trying something similar. Not from space though, but the stratosphere. Project Loon www.google.com/loon.

Shot? (warning: pedantry) (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#44109639)

Today, a Russian Soyuz rocket shot the first 4 of 12 satellites

Well that's not a good start. Unless, of course, you meant "launched."

They will orbit at 8,062 km and will weigh only 650 kilogrammes

Science fail!

about 500 milliseconds to be exact

Well, which is it? About 500ms or exactly 500ms?

Re:Shot? (warning: pedantry) (1)

Renegade88 (874837) | about a year ago | (#44110051)

"shot" is an acceptable synonym for launch, so that's a fail. The other two qualify as pedantry though.

Re:Shot? (warning: pedantry) (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#44110227)

"shot" is an acceptable synonym for launch, so that's a fail.

I disagree.

Re:Shot? (warning: pedantry) (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44111157)

about 500 milliseconds to be exact

Well, which is it? About 500ms or exactly 500ms?

In generally accepted technical use (at least around where I live), a number in the form of 500 with no further info usually means "any x for 499.5<x<500.5". They probably should have said "half a second". The absolute lower limit is about a quarter of a second (due to the speed of light in vacuum and the altitude of geostationary satellites), but there are obviously some delays dictated by the design of the onboard systems (packet switching costs). However, that only applies to both endpoints visible from the same satellite, so 0.5s is probably the worst case for routing via two sats. On paper, it looks about right.

Re:Shot? (warning: pedantry) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44115827)

Well that's not a good start. Unless, of course, you meant "launched."

Alan Shepard [wikipedia.org] begs to differ, Mr. wannabe pedant.

They will orbit at 8,062 km and will weigh only 650 kilogrammes
Science fail!

Pedant fail. They weigh 8062 kg. They will weigh more during liftoff and almost nothing when deployed. Something having 8062 kg of mass weighs 8062 kg unless you change gravity (like accelerating or falling)

Well, which is it? About 500ms or exactly 500ms?

Do you have any idea how short a time 500ms is? For all practical purposes, 490ms IS 500 ms.

Infrastructure required? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44109949)

IIRC the major reason for putting your communication satellites in GEO is that you can point a dish at one and leave it, and the dish will always be pointed at that satellite (barring satellite failure). Using LEO/MEO has cost (per satellite, but you need more satellites), signal strength and round-trip-time advantages, but you can no longer use a Big Dumb Antenna, but have to actively point at the satellite, and have some method to switch between satellites as they pass above/below the horizon. Does this O3b system use ground stations with multiple actuated dishes to feed a local fibre or POTS network (basically acting as a backbone in the sky), or is this intended for end-users with fancy phased array antennas and hilariously complex tracking systems?

Re: Infrastructure required? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110563)

The former. Each ground station will have (at least) 2 antennas that will track the O3b satellites as they pass overhead.

not cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44110357)

oh, 50% of existing satellite bandwidth......

That equates to 500-1000 USD per MB depending upon geographic region. Is this what the under connected can afford? I want to be under connected!

Re:not cheap (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about a year ago | (#44110517)

I don't know where you are getting your numbers from but europasat in the UK lists offers for sattelite internet on a pay as you go basis for £7 per gigabyte and you can get a lower cost per gigabyte by committing to a certain number of gigabytes per month. That seems to be in the same ballpark as cellular services.

Maratime and mobile sattelite internet services are far more expensive but afaict they are still not anywhere near the prices you give.

Latency (3, Informative)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year ago | (#44111511)

In theory round trip latency should be 53ms. ( (8062km *1000) / 299792.458 = 26.8ms one way). That is almost a factor of 10 better than current satellite offerings. It may even make games playable.

Re:Latency (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44112193)

Maybe. But it sounds like you will be switching between satellites constantly. Hope they work it out so it happens seamlessly. Otherwise, game playing and VPNs will suffer.

Available in America? (2)

captain_nifty (132748) | about a year ago | (#44111763)

I actually RTFA and couldn't find a list of the "180 under connected countries" but as a satellite internet customer for several years the US should be on the list.

My Stats: ~900 ms latancy, 1.5 MBit, daily cap of 300 MB download, all for 3x the price of the lowest cable or DSL plan not available in my area.

It's amazing how all the telecom companies talk about providing great service until you live a mile and a half down a dead end road they have no plan to ever run lines down (Cable), or you are too far from the nearest DSLAM for DSL.

Maybe not the perfect solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44112319)

....but better than what we have now. It should be noted that when this article is talking about this service being "30 - 50 percent less than traditional satellite services," they are probably talking about VSAT in the respective areas of operation, not something like HughesNet here in America. Traditional VSATs are large (4-6 feet across and very heavy) and complicated to set up. They also easily run $1,200 - $1,500 USD/Month for relatively limited bandwidth (maybe 5/2.5 MB, contention ratio 1:5). In addition to VSAT, there are BGAN and other BGAN like services, which are very portable, but insanely expensive ($4,500 USD/Month) and have a limited bandwidth. By my estimations, the monthly service fee for this new O3B service would still be around $700 USD/Month, and still be fairly limited in bandwidth. Additionally, there is a maximum of 1.2 GB per beam, and assuming your ground terminal and your neighbor's ground terminals aren't moving around, this means you're certainly going to be sharing bandwidth, and maybe only get a relatively limited speed. I don't know what the diameter of each beam is (and I am too lazy to work out the math based on the numbers provided by this article), but for people anywhere near an urban setting, I would imagine space would be limited on the entire bandwidth spectrum, and there may even be a maximum number of slots open. So, basically, this is the next step in solving a very real problem, but the monthly cost is very much not in the price range of the average "under connected" person in the service area in question. Despite everyone groaning about internet costs in the US, this is NOT the solution you will be looking for. It WILL, however be awesome for: extractive industries, police and military, humanitarian and disaster response organizations, and large companies entering new and emerging markets. I bet the antenna (not a satellite dish as expressed in this article) will be fairly easy to set up too, making this way above standard satellite internet.

Re:Maybe not the perfect solution... (1)

Herve5 (879674) | about a year ago | (#44120403)

Well I'm a bit more optimistic, based on the current offers from geostationary satellites in Europe.
Like you I remember the times when having a sat connection meant both a sci-fi hardware à la James Bond and a terrible monthly rate, but being a camper van user I've carefully kept an eye on this these last years and, considering for instance the Eutelsat offers in Europe (which admittedly have a very bad lag, coming from GEO orbits), their cost lies around no more than twice the ordinary ADSL city connection here: something definitely accessible for almost anyone living in "the remote farm".
Based on this, I somehow expect O3B costing to lie in a relatively close area: too high for switching when living in a city, but actually reachable "in the outland" --or else they'll just push customers to Eutelsat...

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