Facebook, working with Eutelsat, to Beam Free Internet to Africa with Satellites

Klint Finley at Wired: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes access to the Internet is a human right. And he’s using his company’s wealth to make sure, in Facebook’s own idiosyncratic way, to see that everyone in the world gets connected.

The latest example: The company said today that its Internet.org initiative and France-based satellite communications company Eutelsat are teaming up to bring satellite internet to sub-Saharan Africa.

“Over the last year Facebook has been exploring ways to use aircraft and satellites to beam Internet access down into communities from the sky,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook today. “To connect people living in remote regions, traditional connectivity infrastructure is often difficult and inefficient, so we need to invent new technologies.”

The two companies will offer separate internet services in the region, both to launch during the second half of 2016, according to an Eutelsat said today. The plan is to offer connectivity directly to Internet users and communities, as opposed to providing a backbone connection to commercial internet service providers. Eutelsat will focus on small businesses, a spokesperson tells WIRED, while Facebook will presumably focus on the consumer market. The two companies will split the entire capacity provided by the forthcoming AMOS-6 satellite under development by the Israeli satellite company Spacecom.

Although Zuckerberg is promising new inventions to solve the problem of global Intenret access, the company in this case is actually taking advantage of well-understood technologies. Unlike more experimental new Internet satellite initiatives from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the startup OneWeb, which aim to deploy hundreds of satellites in low-earth orbit—roughly 100 to 1,250 miles above the earth—Facebook and Eutelsat’s project will use a traditional geostationary orbit satellite—around 22,000 miles above the planet. That means this new service will be bound by the same constraints—namely high latency, or the gap between sending a request to the network and getting an answer back—that limit existing satellite Internet elsewhere.

On the other hand, using the traditional satellites will require far less investment, since geostationary Internet delivery is a well understood problem. Plus, a single geostationary satellite can cover a much larger geographic area than a low-earth orbit satellite, so far fewer satellites are needed to deliver service.

Sources:

Wired: Facebook Looks to Space to Bring the Internet Everywhere

Eutelsat: Eutelsat and Facebook to partner on satellite initiative to get more Africans online

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