ANALYSIS: Satellite – the new fibre?

ANALYSIS: Satellite – the new fibre?

Fresh from the launch of its latest four satellites on December 18 2014, O3b Networks has revealed plans to increase its network capacity to a terabit.

Live from the Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, Steve Collar, CEO at O3b Networks, told Capacity that December’s launch brings O3b’s constellation of satellites to 12, and plans are in place to expand this to more than 100 over the next few years. 

“Over time, satellite has proven itself to be extremely reliable,” Collar said. “They are in orbit in a very hostile environment for 10-15 years with no meaningful support.”

He added that being a constellation increases reliability and means there is a lot of redundancy between the satellites.

“This is one of the key selling points of a satellite network compared to a terrestrial network,” Collar said. “With subsea cables, you can have anchors dragging up fibre and causing cuts, or with terrestrial connectivity in places like Africa, network availabilities can be extremely low.”

Traditionally, satellite technology has been viewed only as a last-resort connectivity solution for operators accessing remote regions. However, with the latest of O3b’s satellites being launched into medium earth orbit (MEO), latency is dramatically decreased, bringing it on par with long-haul fibre transmission, and customer costs are significantly reduced.

“When we founded O3b, it was on the basis that we wanted the performance over satellite to be equivalent to that over fibre,” Collar said. “Now customers can get the best of both worlds; fibre-like connectivity in places where it is very hard, or even cost-prohibitive, to get fibre deployed.”

And taking this even further, Collar said that having now reached 100G capacity with its 12 satellites, O3b is targeting terabit capacity. 

“This is unheard of over a satellite network, but it is the direction we are heading in,” he said.

Terabit capacity will allow O3b to meet the growing demands of the three verticals it operates in; telco, enterprise and government.

O3b focusses largely on the “other 3 billion” – the section of the global population underserved by connectivity – and Collar said that the demand in some of these markets had increased at an incredible pace. 

Earlier this year, O3b launched a geostationary satellite to serve Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, alongside local partner Raga Telecom, and the company had already seen a four-fold increase in demand for capacity.

In response to this, in early 2015 O3b will start on its procurement cycle to bring satellite numbers up to 100.

“Our challenge is making sure we keep up with this evident demand, and that means more satellites,” Collar concluded.