Tag Archives: telecommunications

It looks like the o3B deal is legit. Low cost satellite coverage for Africa by 2010.

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.

Read on…

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.

Read on…

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.

Read on…

Inmarsat is increasing it’s IP data speed

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.

Read on…

WalkingHotSpot – Turn your mobile phone into a WiFi hotspot

Dailywireless has a story about turning your phone into a hotspot using Taproot Systems’ WalkingHotSpot.  From Sam’s write-up:

Taproot Systems has launched WalkingHotSpot that transforms a smartphone with built-in WiFi to a mobile hotspot (FAQ). It can support up to five devices.

WalkingHotSpot is currently available for Wi-Fi-enabled devices that use Symbian S60 and Windows Mobile operating systems. The company expects to have support for other major operating systems soon but provided no specific date.

Subscribers can obtain a free 7-day trial and then can purchase a subscription for $6.99 per month. The company also is offering an introductory annual subscription for $24.99.

Read on…

Could the Google/O3b deal signal the end of high latency problems in Africa and beyond?

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.

Read on…

‘Low Bandwidth Networking to maximize informations per dollar.’

Renaud Gaudin of Geekcorps-Mali has an excellent summary of ways to optimize your network when you are stuck with an over-priced and often over-sold VSAT connection.  These low bandwidth/high latency networks are the bane of the humanitarian aid industry and suck up millions of dollars every year that would normally be used for purchasing medicine, food, supplies, etc.  Renaud writes:

To use the Internet more effisciently and get the max of those tiny 200KB, we have used the following strategies:

  1. Cache web pages on the client computer at the radio station.
  2. Force the client computer to communicate only with a central server.
  3. Have the server strip images and ads from web pages.
  4. Have the server email news summaries to the client.
  5. Transfer email between client and server just once per day.
  6. Strip attachments from email messages.
  7. Compress all communication between client and server.
  8. Disable web access when the daily quota is exceeded.
  9. Provide continuous feedback of daily network usage to help the user learn to efficiently use the Internet.

He goes on to link to include a link to a Low Bandwidth Networking technical document.  This is a fantastic document outlining the use of a Squid Proxy, Loband Filter, and even Ubuntu for running a lean and mean system when faced with major connectivity hurdles.

Defeating the scourge of the dirty, low bandwidth/high latency over-priced networks is the last great battle that has yet to be fought.  Humanitarian organizations dump more money into bad connections than they chose to think about.  All the philanthropic assets of the IT industry should be trained right now on solving this priority issue.

Chris Wilson and the folks over at Aptivate.org have been wrestling with this 400lb. gorilla for years now and they created Loband.org, wrote ‘How To Accelerate Your Internet’, and contributed to host of projects in an effort to defeat it.  I started my own NGO, Humanlink, also in an effort to develop a solution to pressing humanitarian telecommincations and technology problems.  We ran a successful mission in Indonesia last year where we rolled out Clark Connect Community Edition boxes at no cost to the organization we were assisting.  Mercy Corps has been using Clark Connect for years due to it’s web caching (and other) abilities.

Telecommunications update from Tbilisi

A friend of mine who is currently in Tbilisi was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.  To summarize:

  • The mobile phone networks are working fine in Tbilisi.
  • Magticom is the preferred network provider as it has the best coverage.
  • No news on how the networks are functioning in South Ossetia.
  • My friend is currently using an “impressively fast” landline for INTERNET that is faster than the WiFi back home.  Skype, Outlook, etc. all work fine.  Skype video is exceptionally good.
  • Things are returning to normal in Tbilisi and seem to be getting back to the way they were before the conflict.

I didn’t want to bother with asking too many questions straight out of the gate as time spent answering questions means time away from the real work.  I’ll see if I can collect some more info once things slow down a bit.

So, if you are headed to Tbilisi it looks like you are not going to have too much trouble connecting.

(Please note that Skype was mentioned.  It is the unheralded champion of the humanitarian community and has become one of the most important pieces of humanitarian kit out there today.)

Telecoms Sans Frontieres is in Georgia

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.

Read on…

Update on the role Thuraya phones played in a K2 climber’s resuce

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.

“It still very difficult to get a call anywhere around the country right now.” – NPR

NPR’s Ivan Watson reports that Russian planes are continually bombing cell phone towers in an effort to knock out telecommunications networks and what’s left of the GSM network in the country only works sporadically.  Also, he reports that the INTERNET in Georgia has been compromised by a cyberattack.  This was reported earlier in the day by WIRED’s Danger Room. [Click here to listen to the NPR audio file.]

With an already limited GSM network in South Ossetia and Abkhazia now compromised by bomb attacks it seems that folks heading into Georgia have very little option other than Thuraya and Iridium satellite phones.  While networks may work from time to time I am not sure anyone is going to want to rely on them as their only source of communication.  With the INTERNET also under assault aid teams will also be relying on Inmarsat’s BGAN and the new ThurayaIP.

3G woefully inadequate in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

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.