Get set for anytime, anywhere connectivity
While the developed world is already a well-connected place, there are still large swathes of the developing world that are not connected to the world wide web. These unconnected areas are emerging as the next battlefront for some of the leading technology companies that are looking to provide broadband to everyone, everywhere. Over the next five years, these corporations are looking to provide last-mile broadband connectivity to the unconnected world satellites. That’s what OneWeb, a global consortium comprising Airbus, Bharti Enterprises, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Qualcomm, Coca-Cola, Mexico’s Totalplay and Virgin plans to do. OneWeb has closed a $500 million funding round to build a global satellite network comprising 648 low-earth orbiting satellites that will provide affordable broadband services. The satellites will be connected to $250 solar-powered OneWeb user terminals on the ground, which will extend the reach of the mobile network with embedded LTE, 3G, 2G and WiFi access. If all goes right the first of the satellites made by Airbus would be launched by Virgin Galactic (39 launches) and Arianespace (21) sometime in 2017. That’s a huge boost to Virgin which has yet to complete a space flight for paying passengers. What is not clear at the moment is the investment needed to roll out this programme. That could well be critical to its success.
But, OneWeb is not alone in the race for providing satellite-based broadband connectivity. Google has been in the race for awhile with Project Loon that envisages launching a series of balloons on the edge of space that will connect people in remote areas and fill coverage gaps. Where there is Google, expect Facebook too to be there. It plans to launch unmanned aerial vehicles that are the size of a Boeing 747 to beam connectivity. And then there is Elon Musk’s SpaceX that plans to have 4,000 low-orbiting satellites providing connectivity. All that is great news for the Indian mobile subscriber looking for lower latency and faster downloads. Over the next five years, that would hopefully mean faster downloads across the world. But, don’t be surprised if the biggies join hands to provide the aam aadmi broadband connectivity. For all you know, they could share resources like today’s mobile operators do. One ray of hope that it offers to the harried Indian mobile user is better access an reduced call drops. That alone should be manna from heaven.