Fibre to the sky funding could mean fast internet for rural Africa

Countries in Africa as well as other developing nations could be set for broadband uptake more successful than in remote parts of Europe thanks to funding for a fibre in the sky satellite service.

O3b Networks has announced $1.2 billion in funding from banks and investors to plough into its global satellite constellation, which it says will support ISPs in developing regions with the network providing “fibre-quality, low-latency internet backbone” for developing markets.

The news will please human rights groups and the UN, which back in September voiced concerns over countries in Africa playing broadband catch up. It followed figures released by the UN looking at the global disparity in fixed broadband access and cost in different countries. The Central African Republic was the most expensive place to get a fixed broadband connection, costing nearly 40 times the average monthly income there. Niger was pinpointed as the most expensive place to access communication technologies, when landlines and mobiles were taken into account.

O3b is planning to abolish the issue of latency that has hampered satellite broadband by parking its satellites closer to Earth.

“Standard geosynchronous satellites operate approximately 36,000km away from Earth and as a result, round-trip data transmission times significantly exceed 500 milliseconds,” the company said in a statement.

“O3b’s medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites are far closer – approximately 8,000km away from Earth,” the company said. “As a result, round-trip data transmission times are reduced to approximately 100 milliseconds.”

Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN agency for Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) said:
“O3b’s plan adds an exciting new piece to the puzzle through a low-cost solution that could help quickly bridge the emerging broadband divide separating rich and poor nations.”

Thales Alenia Space is currently constructing O3b’s first eight medium earth orbit Ka-band satellites. The design of the system means that it will be possible to add many more satellites to the constellation, increasing capacity and transforming satellite communications for the developing world. O3b will begin commercial service during the first half of 2013 following the planned launch of the first eight satellites by Arianespace with a Soyuz launcher from French Guiana. ViaSat will provide the teleport and trunking product customer terminals.