Internet speed and reliability are hot current topics, with cellular providers pushing data plans and home service providers peddling everything from service bundles to home security.
On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that over a third of the global population doesn’t know the difference between a bird call and a post to Twitter. Nearly 4.4 billion people have never been online. Last week, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, announced his newest venture to provide reliable and fast internet to the masses via his new constellation satellite program that still remains unnamed. The proposed constellation would be comprised of a network of 4000 small satellites weighing between 100 and 500 kilograms and could make global internet service a reality.
Google has its own similar endeavor, but is interested in using high altitude balloons to give off LTE internet signals from within the Earth’s atmosphere. Because of the similarity of these missions, Google and Fidelity announced that they will invest 1 billion US dollars in SpaceX. But why is Google so interested in SpaceX when they have their own system?
Turns out there is another player in the race for global connectivity. Greg Wyler, CEO of start-up OneWeb, is looking to launch a 700 satellite constellation to meet the same end. Not to be underestimated, Wyler worked for Google briefly before he branched out on his own nailing investors like Virgin Group and Qualcomm. His plan appears to be cheaper, proposing a mere $2 billion system compared to SpaceX’s $10 billion. He has experience – in 2003 he launched Terracom which provided Rwandans with 3G and fiber optic internet. This sparked his idea for lower altitude satellites a mere 5,000 miles from Earth, with only 12 satellites named O3b Networks. O3b services connect countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and small island chains to cruise ships, formulating the largest internet provider in the Pacific. And he has the rights to the spectrum for the system. In fact, he took the rights to the spectrum when he left Google, which does not leave enough physical space for any other venture of this kind. Time will tell if collaboration or monopolization allow these projects to flourish or flop.
On a different note: Wyler and Musk not only know each other, but are friends. Musk welcomes the competition because he and Wyler disagreed on the system’s architecture. Talk about some friendly competition! According to Musk, his project is more than 5 years out whereas Wyler’s may come to fruition sooner, although he has just as many hurdles to overcome.
What does this mean for the world of telecommunications? It means a booming industry with no single entity monopolizing on big data and internet services. According to Musk, these new systems could increase internet speeds dramatically since “the speed of light is 40 percent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fiber”. On the materials side, it increases the need for mission critical components, including DUNMORE’s mutli-layer insulation (MLI) and other spacecraft materials.