In early 2013, a small company called O3b Networks plans to launch eight satellites capable of offering low-cost Internet and cellphone service to much of the developing world. O3b, which refers to the “other three billion” people in the world without reliable broadband access, said last week that it has raised US$1.2 billion, enough to put its first satellites into orbit. Google is one of the firm’s chief backers, along with several investment firms and banks.
The satellites, which will orbit four times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, will be able to quickly transmit data to local Internet service providers and telecom companies in as many as 150 countries (or 70 per cent of the world’s population), says O3b. While the company maintains it will turn a profit, it has more virtuous aims too: by connecting developing countries to telecom systems in the rest of the world, it hopes to provide a big boost to business and investment in emerging markets.