The blast off of a Russian rocket carrying the first of a network of satellites is set to open the way for 3 billion people to log on to the world wide web.
The O3B satellites will take the internet to places in the world that have no cheap access to the web.
Although companies boast their services are accessible worldwide, this is not really true unless the end user has access to a satellite telephone that costs way beyond what they can earn in a year for just a few minutes online.
O3B – which stands for the Other 3 billion – aims to change that. The firm claims 2 billion people have good internet connections, the service is on the way for 3 billion more, but the final 3 billion will be left behind.
The Soyuz rocket will take four O3B satellites into orbit – another four will launch in September, followed by another four in 2014.
The communications satellites will handle voice and data for mobile phone and internet services.
The low-flying satellites will be stationed at 8,000 kilometres above the earth’s surface – thousands of kilometres above air routes but only a fraction of the distance of GPS and other communications satellites.
The reason, says O3B, is to cut out the lag of satellite communication in real time.
The target market is billions of would-be web users across Africa, Asia and South America who have no web access, or at best expensive, intermittent connections.
“The network designs out the biggest problem for satellite communications users – the few milliseconds of delay between transmission and receiving a signal,” said an O3B spokesman.
“Although that fraction of a second is not a long time, the delay renders many satellite systems unusable for real-time applications. Designing out the lag makes searches quicker, video runs without buffering and voice calls do not have those annoying pauses.”
The project has costs $1 billion so far and is expected to start forwarding communications later this year when eight satellites are in orbit. The target is 20 satellites.
Each satellite will be stationed above the equator at equidistant intervals, which means a satellite will always be in the sky above the target service zones.
Among the project backers is Google – who are testing hi-tech low-level communications in New Zealand.
The internet search company is launching a series of 40-foot diameter balloons carrying a payload of communications equipment.
The idea is to station them in the stratosphere and to beam down a tightly focussed broadband connection to see if a network of low-flying balloons could bring cheap internet services to remote regions.