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Can Google Innovate with Satellites as it Has With Google Fiber?

June 02, 2014

Can Google Innovate with Satellites as it Has With Google Fiber?

By Gary Kim
Contributing Editor

Google (News - Alert) plans to spend more than $1 billion on a fleet of new satellites to provide Internet access to underserved regions and people, launching perhaps 180 new satellites, likely using a middle-earth network architecture.

Gree Wyler, founder of satellite-communications startup O3b Networks, is running the project for Google. O3b's former chief technology officer also has joined Google.

Separately, Google also is trying to buy Skybox Imaging, which would provide both satellite and command capabilities, in addition to additional new mapping capabilities.

Google also bought Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of drones, and also has been investigating balloon-delivered Internet access.

As has been the case with Google’s earlier investments in municipal Wi-Fi and free airport Wi-Fi, investments in mobile spectrum and even O3b itself, Google investigates numerous access methods, and might eventually commercialize some of them.

Google will provide Wi-Fi access at Starbucks locations, replacing AT&T (News - Alert), and also has commercialized Google Fiber.

Whether Google will succeed at hitting its hoped-for cost targets with the new satellite initiative is unclear. But skeptics doubted Google could turn Google Fiber into a commercial venture as well.

The issue, as always, is whether Google can find some new breakthrough on the capital investment, operating cost or business model fronts, compared to all others that have investigated, or which use the same MEO architecture.

To be sure, the cost of supplying satellite bandwidth arguably has fallen over the past couple of decades. By some estimates the latest generations of satellites will feature capacity about 300 percent higher than current generation satellites, and perhaps 33 percent lower cost.

Those with long memories also will recall earlier end-user-focused efforts to create low Earth orbit or middle-earth networks in the past. To be sure, costs have gotten lower over the past few decades, with developments both in launch costs and the satellites themselves.

Google will, of course, also have to secure rights to use satellite spectrum.

Some will argue that the key innovations will not come in the areas of bandwidth or cost per megabyte of delivered capacity, but instead in business model innovations. Still, Google and others are creating new competition for legacy providers of Internet access, including now even O3b, one of the newest contenders.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson
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