Gilat and Boeing’s Sea Launch have signed deals with Google funded o3B Networks. I had my doubts but it looks like there will be a ring of Medium Earth Orbit satellites up by 2010 providing low cost, ultra-low latency connectivity for providers in the developing world/emerging markets.
From the Gilat press release:
O3b Networks, funded by Google Inc., Liberty Global, Inc. and HSBC Principal Investments, recently announced it will deploy the world’s first ultra-low-latency, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), Ka-band, fiber-speed satellite network designed to improve Internet access for millions of consumers and businesses in emerging markets. Service activation and ground equipment is scheduled for late 2010.
Gilat’s planned new line of MEO VSAT terminals and gateway components will be developed based on its industry-leading SkyEdge platform. The MEO VSAT equipment will cover multiple aspects of O3b Networks’ ground segment and enable automatic tracking of the satellites and seamless handoff between satellites. Specific terminals are planned for high-growth markets, including 3G Cellular/WiMAX backhaul, IP trunking, and broadband connectivity for SMEs and ISP backhaul.
From the Sea Launch press release:
Sea Launch Company has signed a launch services agreement with O3b Networks Limited for up to two launches in support of their Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) telecommunications satellite constellation, with the first launch set for late 2010.
Built by Thales Alenia Space, the O3b Networks satellites will be deployed by Sea Launch’s Zenit-3SL system in groups of eight per launch, to an equatorial injection orbit of 7,825 kilometers above the Earth. The satellites, each weighing approximately 700 kg (1,540 lb.), are designed to provide high-speed, ultra-low-latency Internet Protocol (IP) connectivity between emerging and developed markets worldwide.
However, Chris over at Aptivate has his doubts. If anyone knows what he is talking about it is Chris so be sure to read up. Chris writes:
Google and other partners have so far invested $65m of the total $750m sought, and venture capital is being raised for the rest. This proves just how much this bottom of the pyramid Internet market is worth to Google.
Satellite bandwidth is already highly commoditised, and O3B’s plan to reduce this from US$4,000 per megabit per month to $500 requires compelling evidence. In any case this is wholesale bandwidth, not for end users, who will still pay whatever the telco wishes to charge.
I also think that their US$ 750 million investment in satellites will be useless within 20 years of launch due to degradation (NYT claims a 10-15 year life for MEO satellites), whereas building more land capacity in Africa would have much longer-lasting benefits.
Satnews.com is reporting that Inmarsat will increase BGAN data speeds starting next year. From the article:
The enhancement, currently in development, will deliver a minimum guaranteed streaming rate of 384 kbps and will be introduced by mid-2009. The new premium streaming service will be available on all existing BGAN terminals capable of accessing current streaming rates of 256 kbps, and will be accessible without the need for additional external hardware.
Google, O3b and various investors have inked a deal to provide low cost, low latency Internet access to “the other 3 billion”. I remember thinking, several years back, why doesn’t just think about launching it’s own satellites. Hopefully, this development will prove fortuitous to the aid organizations working in these regions. From the New York Times article:
Satellite company O3b Networks has linked up with Google and other investors to bring cheaper, high-speed wireless Internet access to areas unlikely to see investments in fiber infrastructure.
O3b stands for “other 3 billion,” a reference to the world’s population that still can’t access the Internet. O3b, which is based in the U.K.’s Channel Islands, said construction is under way on 16 satellites that will drop the cost for ISPs and operators to provide Internet access over 3G (third-generation) and WiMax networks.
Those satellites will provide backhaul capacity, also known as “trunking,” for ISPs (Internet service providers) and operators, essentially moving large amounts of data wirelessly between points where fiber-optic cable has not been dug into the ground, said Greg Wyler, O3b’s founder and CEO.
Reuters is reporting that GeoEye will soon begin providing high-resolution imagery to Google for Google Maps and Google Earth. Here are some highlights from the article:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – GeoEye Inc on Thursday said it will provide imagery from its new $502 million high-resolution GeoEye-1 satellite to Google Earth and Google Maps after the spacecraft is launched on September 4.
If all goes well with the launch, GeoEye’s new satellite will be the world’s highest resolution commercial earth-imaging satellite, offering images at .41 meters resolution in black and white and 1.65 meters in color.
Google spokeswoman Kate Hurowitz said Google would begin receiving half-meter resolution imagery from the new satellite after 45 to 60 days, during which the company will make sure all the satellite’s systems are up and running.
While this may not be of major interest to most folks working in the field it will interest those who are currently stationed in Oceania and SE Asia. The third and final Inmarsat satellite is scheduled to launch on August 19th and will complete Inmarsat’s efforts to cover the earth. It will add overlap coverage (see the bright blue area in the coverage map below) for countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and PNG. From their site:
The current constellation of two Inmarsat-4 satellites delivers mobile broadband services to 85 per cent of the world’s landmass, covering 98 per cent of the world’s population. A successful launch of the third Inmarsat-4 will complete the global coverage for Inmarsat’s broadband services.
Read the rest of the press release here
From their site:
Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) which has been on alert since day one of the conflict deployed an emergency crew of telecoms specialists to Georgia on Wednesday. The team left from TSF’s headquarters in France and landed in Tbilisi at 17:00 local time on Wednesday to assess the telecoms needs of the humanitarian community and affected civilians.
From the XSat USA website:
XSAT USA played an intricate role in the survival of two climbers after the recent mountain disaster on K2. A team of twenty two explorers were attempting to successfully reach the summit and descend the deadly K2 when disaster struck. While descending the mountain, an ice wall collapsed upon the weary climbers and destroyed the ropes and lines necessary for the safe descent. Team members were scattered throughout the mountain’s “dead zone” with no possible chance of survival without a rescue attempt. Survivor Wilco Van Rooijen used a Thuraya Satellite Phone to contact his brother in desperation. Rooijen’s brother contacted Tom Sjogren of the mountaineering website ExplorersWeb. Tom then reached XSAT USA President Jan Rademaker on Friday, August 1 at 10:30 p.m. in need of Satellite GPS coordinates from Van Rooijen’s call history. XSAT employees in Dubai managed to access the information necessary to mount a rescue attempt through Thuraya, a satellite communication company based out of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. When Rooijen used his phone to call his brother, his GPS location was saved at the Thuraya ground station in Sharjah, UAE, giving Pakistani helicopters a chance to rescue two of the stranded climbers. The men were successfully rescued and taken to a Pakistani hospital for frostbite treatment.
Given that now more than ever aid organizations are relying on GPRS and 3G data cards to stay connected it is a bit disconcerting to see that both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have limited network coverage. As I mentioned before the GSM network coverage is lacking in South Ossetia. Now that the Russian Navy is steaming toward the coast of Abkhazia I should mention that it looks like GSM coverage is also poor in that region. With the overall picture looking grim for connectivity in the contested areas I sure hope that Georgia permits free use of satellite communications and that US export and Georgian import restrictions are minimal.
This is a fairly common problem that most aid agencies face. Telecommunications networks in the areas where aid agencies operate are often underdeveloped. Most likely this is because carriers are concerned about placing their gear in unstable regions where it could be easily lost or destroyed in the event of conflict. (Although one has to has to wonder if there are not sometimes other less savory reasons for not extending a network.) Thankfully, it looks like agencies are currently conducting their operations in more stable areas like those around Tblisi.
If anyone has any updates on this issue please be sure to comment.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post here is Thuraya’s global coverage map. South Ossetia is close to the center of the the Thuraya-2 satellite’s footprint. For those agencies deploying to the region it may make sense to pack a Thuraya or Iridium phone as it looks like there may be an issue with GSM coverage in the NW region of South Ossetia.
Evan Henshaw-Plath, a.ka. Rabble, wrote to let me know that he has linked his SPOT to Twitter via Yahoo’s Fire Eagle. (You catch him on Twitter under his alias.) Check out this Twitter post:
rabble “Fire Eagle last spotted you 14 minutes ago at xxx NW Gxxxxx St, Portland, OR using SPOT Satellite Messenger. ” So cool. It Works
SPOT is a personal locator tool which uses GPS to find you and then uses a satellite network to send your location to folks that are following you. The data is a available in a variety of formats (GPX, GeoRSS and KML) and can easily be sent out via email, SMS or RSS.
Yahoo’s Fire Eagle is “the secure and stylish way to share your location with sites and services online while giving you unprecedented control over your data and privacy.” If you haven’t signed up for a Beta invite yet please do so here. Evan had a hand in creating Fire Eagle as well as Twitter. You can watch him here talking about Fire Eagle at eComm 2008:
By directing Fire Eagle to route his SPOT tracks to Twitter Evan can keep his followers informed of his whereabouts at all times. Evan also said that SPOT works just fine in a backpack so there should be no line-of-sight issues.
It makes me wonder if all the climbers on K2 (that I wrote about yesterday here) were carrying SPOT’s and had them set-up so that their teammates could follow them would more of them have survived? There are so many factors to consider that there cannot be one simple answer. We do know that one person survived thanks to the fact that they could identify and send their location via their Thuraya satellite phone.
This is the type of resourcefulness that I love to hear about. While the SPOT isn’t cheap at $169.99 it is unique in it’s abilities and if you are running off to the bush, and you are in a permissive environment, you might consider throwing one in your bag. Fire Eagle and Twitter are both free to use so once you’ve paid the upfront costs you can enable your entire network of friends and associates to follow your every move.
Posted in Gadgets
Tagged Fire Eagle, GeoRSS, GPS, KML, satellite, SMS, SPOT, telecommunications, Thuraya, Twitter, Yahoo