Google's Web for the Poor Satellite Gets Billions in Funding

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Google backs some projects that may may make you blink, they're so odd—one of them is nevertheless so promising it's earned $1.18 billion in funding: It's a satellite network to bring Internet to the world's poor.

The project is called O3b—the "other three billion"—and it's aim is very grandiose: It's intended to bring Internet connectivity to the billions of people in poorer, remoter nations around the world where the population generally lacks Internet access. O3b Networks, the company behind the idea, was originally planning to get the project ticking by the end of this year, but the credit crunch bit down hard and made funding difficult, forcing a postponement of the plan and a downsizing from a satellite cluster of 16 to only 8. These are scheduled for launch in 2013.

Now with $1.18 billion in fresh funding, O3b's plans look a lot more concrete. How exactly will it work, though?

O3b's plan is to act not so much as a broadband deliverer, instead it'll act to facilitate ISPs in different nations. The satellites will act as fast communications hubs, benefiting from Ka-band transmitters and low earth orbits (for low data latency) and will handle both cell phones and ISP traffic—essentially it's a backhaul "engine" to move large amounts of data around in an industrial way, making it easier for ground-based services to do their thing.

Overall O3b plans to aid the provision of broadband in 150 countries and help to close the digital divide between more developed countries and less developed countries. While it's easy to dismiss the matter, it's actually a problem that should be considered alongside other economic and technological barriers between the world's richer and poorer countries. Fast, ubiquitous access to the Net can boost business, aid medical services, improve international business and financial dealings, and better cell phone access can even boost things like disaster relief. And with the world's richer nations rapidly moving ahead in embracing Net tech, the poorer world risks being left behind, disconnected from many potential benefits.

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