June 2, 2014
Google’s Ambitious Global Internet Plans May Soon Include Satellites
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Tech giant Google hasn't announced plans to go to the moon… yet. However, the Internet search titan is going to space.
Google announced that it will spend more than $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the globe. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google is hoping to overcome financial and technical problems that have "thwarted previous efforts."
Key details have not been announced; however the project will reportedly call for the launch of 180 small, high-capacity satellites that could orbit the Earth at lower altitudes than traditional communications satellites. The venture is reportedly headed by Greg Wyler, the founder of the satellite communications startup O3B Networks, who recently joined Google.
Google has also reportedly hired engineers from satellite firm Space Systems/Loral to work on this project. According to WSJ, Wyler will have between 10 and 20 people working with him on the project, and he will report to Craig Barratt, one of Google CEO Larry Page's lieutenants.
Google will apparently spend between $1 billion and more than $3 billion on this project based on the network's final design, which could call for double the number of satellites. The WSJ added that based on past satellite ventures prices could rise.
Google had been an early investor in O3B, which has reportedly been working on developing a broadband Internet delivery system from large satellites weighing about 1,500 pounds each. O3B had announced plans to launch about a dozen of these satellites, but Google's efforts could cover the entire planet via smaller satellites that weigh in at less than 250 pounds apiece.
This new project is aimed at bringing Internet coverage to areas underserved by typical Internet delivery methods including fiber optics and cable and telephone lines. Last June Google unveiled "Project Loon," as a way to utilize 19th century technology to bring the 21st century's Internet to the developing world.
That venture was born out of Google's in-house experimental projects lab Google X and called for high-flying balloons that would be solar-powered and remote-controlled to navigate stratospheric winds some 12 miles above the ground to communicate with antennas and receiver stations on the ground. While the 12 miles is far higher than what most planes travel, Google is now looking to go even higher with the satellites.
Google is not alone in looking to the skies to help boost its business on the ground.
Social media giant Facebook had also explored methods to bring drones to emerging markets, and both companies were reportedly eyeing Titan Aerospace, maker of solar-powered high-altitude drones that could stay aloft for up to five years. Facebook had entered into contract to acquire the company in early March for $60 million, but Google swooped in and bought the company in April.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the 20-person start-up, which was headed by former Symantec CEO Vern Rayburn, will reportedly work closely with Project Loon and other similar projects, according to Cnet.
"Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable," Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications Inc., a satellite-communications research firm, told the Wall Street Journal. "Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access."