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.
Today’s satellite ISPs have average latencies of 600ms or more, according to FCC measurements, with satellites orbiting the Earth at about 35,400km. By contrast, OneWeb satellites would orbit at altitudes of about 1,200km. The company says its Internet access would have latencies of around 30ms, just a bit higher than typical cable systems. Speeds would be around 50Mbps.
OneWeb is planning global satellite Internet access and gave Airbus a contract to build the satellites two years ago. OneWeb says it will start launching production satellites in early 2018 and potentially begin offering Internet service the next year.
That’s what made the news. The truly revolutionary move was made several years ago when O3b was launched with investment from Google. That proved the concept and is actually connecting the unconnected, though they are now focusing on cruise ships and other more lucrative segments too. If OneWeb directly competes with O3b that could result in a greater push for lower prices and better quality, but that’s about it.
Why do I keep writing about O3b? So that old guys, who grew up in the days when geostationary was king, realize that the days of geostationary orbit satellites for telecom are done and finished.