When I first came across O3b in the Pacific, I asked a lot of questions about latency. Because the answers were right, I’ve been recommending O3b type solutions to people who want satellites as part of the solution to broadband connectivity problems. O3b went from four to twelve medium-earth-orbit satellites, serving niche markets that could not be served by fiber. Its weakness, if any, was that it could not serve the northern latitudes. Now Greg Wyler, a founder of O3b, is seeking to fill that gap with a massive constellation of over 700 satellites in a new system that has the financial backing of Intelsat and was just licensed by the FCC, OneWeb.
The government predicted rainfall more than 150 mm on the 25th of May. Over 500 mm of rain fell. Technically, they were not wrong (550 mm is within the range of “more than 150 mm”), but obviously, forecasts like this might as well not be made. [an error was corrected in the above para] But it is wrong to condemn the Met Department which operates even without Doppler radar, though they have been talking about it since 2012. But as discussed below, Doppler radar is old and can only tell about large rain drops.
The following story about Ethiopia, a country still listed as a least-developed country (LDC), wanting to put up its own communication and earth-sensing satellites caught my eye, because this is a perennial story in South Asia. In January the government said it would launch a Chinese-built civilian satellite from an overseas rocket pad within the next five years. It would be designed to Ethiopian specifications and used to monitor crops and the weather, and doubtless to spy on neighbours, too. The government also wants to reduce reliance on foreign telecoms by launching its own communications satellite. In putting its own satellites into orbit Ethiopia would join the select club of African nations that have already done so.
As part of our big data work, we have been looking at sources other than mobile network big data for socio-economic monitoring. Night lights images from satellites was the favorite. But I’ve been always skeptical, partly because of looking down from the New Delhi-Colombo flight which flies through the middle of India and then right down the island from Jaffna. The intensity of the lights is so much higher in southern India, than in Sri Lanka. This story is about daytime images taken by satellites.
I’ve always wondered what the attraction of national satellites is. Especially geo-stationary satellites for telecom. Below is the explanation I finally came up with and my suggestion of what is appropriate in this day and age. The excerpt is from a piece published in Pakistan and Sri Lanka a few months back. In the 1960s, massive antenna connected to a geostationary satellite provided a qualitatively superior solution for international backhaul over the extant methods of copper cables wrapped in gutta-percha or radio waves that bounced off the ionosphere.
Bangladesh keeps talking about launching a satellite. Sri Lanka threw some money at it, but backed off. Myanmar is talking. Now India wants to gift SAARC member countries with a satellite to be launched using ISRO’s innovative, low-cost launch capabilities. Something Keynes wrote about economics gave me the answer to the puzzle of why our region’s decision makers are so enamored with telecom satellites.
I have never been able to understand the satellite fixation some of the decision makers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have. But Myanmar’s plans for a geostationary satellite for broadcasting makes sense. Myanmar has a population density that is very low (76 people per sq. km, compared with 1,103 for Bangladesh and 309 for Sri Lanka) and it is a vast country (676,577 sq km v 143,998 sq km in Bangladesh and 65,610 sq km in Sri Lanka). A national broadcast satellite may make sense, though they should always compare the costs against the alternative of using channels on regional satellites.
Having been regaled on the wonders of non-geostationary satellites by various delegations seeking licenses for Iridium and ICO and other systems that ultimately fizzled out, I was originally skeptical about O3B. But they answered my questions well (despite a messed up presentation at PTC a few years back) and I have been promoting this solution ever since. Happy to know they’ll break even on cash flow by middle 2016. Away from the headlines, Google — an initial O3b backer — has not raised its 5 percent equity share in the company but has kept up with the capital raises to avoided share dilution. What matters to SES shareholders is the money, not the technology, and at SES’s June 17 investor conference O3b Chief Executive Steve Collar gave a snapshot of the company’s current status.
Last week in Vanuatu, a whole bunch of satellite providers and one builder of undersea cables were asked by Dean Bubley of Disruptive Innovations whether they had any thoughts on the potential disruptions posed by the various tech solutions to Internet connectivity being bruited about. They were not worried in one voice. Perhaps the news yesterday that Google had bought a drone company made them rethink their response. Here’s what is on the horizon: First of all, they’re autonomous robots that are nearly the size of a commercial jet that can stay aloft for five years running on solar power. Think about that.
I write this sitting in Vanuatu at the Pacific Islands Telecom Association (PITA) annual convention. These are exciting times for the Pacific (and possibly all small island states) in terms of the opening up of new options re international data connectivity. Tonga They are a few months into the new age of fiber connectivity. This is perhaps the smallest country to invest in a fiber cable (Fiji-Tonga). Population is 103,036.
Asian countries, despite being located in the world’s largest landmass, are interconnected through submarine optical fiber cable networks. Ciena Corp. has found that a terrestrial cable gets cut in every 30 minutes and a submarine cable is damaged in every three days somewhere in the world. And the IT downtime costs more than $25 billion a year to the customers. Ability to rush the maintenance crew ensures the terrestrial cables’ lower downtime than its underwater counterpart.
For too long the government of Bangladesh has hesitated to accept the fact that the only realistic way a majority of its people can be connected to the Internet is over wireless media and has tended to treat the mobile industry as a cash cow to be taxed in order to fund Digital Bangladesh and other general expenses. Therefore, it is heartening to hear the new BTRC Chair recognizing the reality in a report carried in the Daily Star. One hopes that he is not talking about FTTH (except to apartment blocks and such) when he refers to optical fiber in the same sentence. One seriously hopes that he is talking about optical fiber in the backhaul network. Ensuring open access to the existing optical fiber network within Bangladesh operated by BTCL should be a priority for the BTRC if it wishes to improve Internet access.
O3B is a new satellite company that is offering low latency (120-150 ms) satellite connectivity that should be of great interest to small countries without access to submarine cables; for those wanting redundancy for the existing cables, and even cruise lines. Simple physics does not allow geostationary satellites to give low latency. O3B is using medium orbit satellites. Worth a look.
A review of a book on the achievements of Bell Labs, the entity that made most of inventions that we now take for granted: Indeed, Bell Labs was behind many of the innovations that have come to define modern life, including the transistor (the building block of all digital products), the laser, the silicon solar cell and the computer operating system called Unix (which would serve as the basis for a host of other computer languages). Bell Labs developed the first communications satellites, the first cellular telephone systems and the first fiber-optic cable systems.
We were happy to note that the Telecom Regulatory Commission has pulled the plug on a senseless project that we criticized when first announced and once again, for emphasis. It will be interesting to see how much Surrey Satellite Technology, a firm fronted by the son of an English Lord of some kind, cleared in fees in the past year. I met the man in Colombo. Obviously he would not have paid his way here. The TRC will not proceed with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, the British firm which was commissioned to set up the Sri Lanka Space Communications Company last year, due to the high costs involved.
An intriguing move from a consortium that includes Google that seeks to provide cheap and plentiful broadband to areas around the Equator: O3b, by contrast, intends to offer bandwidth on a wholesale basis to internet-service providers, and transmission services to telecom operators, to link remote base stations to their core networks. Furthermore, O3b’s service will be available only in a ribbon around the equator, covering most developing countries. It can start offering this service with just five satellites (it will eventually have 16) circling 8,000km above the equator. These should be in orbit by late 2010. More on this here.