Google to invest $1 billion in satellite connectivity

03 June 2014 | Kavit Majithia


Internet giant Google is planning to invest over $1 billion on satellite communications in a bid to provide internet access to untapped regions across the world.

Google has embarked on a similar project in the past, but has been thwarted by financial and technical issues.

According to latest reports, Google will initially invest in 180 high-capacity satellites that orbit around earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites.

This could then be expanded over time, and the venture is being driven by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite startup O3b Networks, who has recently joined Google. Google has increased its focus on recruiting engineers with expertise in satellite, and has also recruited O3b’s former CTO.

Sources close to the company claim the project could cost over $3 billion when its final design is implemented, and based on past satellite projects, the costs could rise further.

Google and Facebook are competing for market share in underserved regions in a bid to boost revenue and earnings, with Google now looking to satellite to increase its reach.

As part of the Project Loon initiative, Google acquired Titan Aerospace in April, a company that is building solar-powered drones to provide connectivity. It is also investing in high-altitude balloons to provide broadband services to remote regions across the world. Google said it is now focussed on connecting hundreds of millions of people online.

“Internet connectivity significantly improves people’s lives,” said a spokesperson. “Yet two thirds of the world have no access at all.”

According to Susan Irwin, president of satellite research company Irwin Communications, Google and Facebook are trying to find new ways to reach untapped populations.

“Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

It is likely that Google will have to overcome a range of regulatory concerns, including co-ordination with other satellite operators to avoid interference.

O3b, of which Google was an early investor, has had a similar aim, and is still planning to launch a dozen satellites, weighing over 1500 lb each, to cover large surface areas on either side of the equator.

Google will launch smaller satellites, weighing less than 250 lb but with the intention of covering the entire globe.