My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Google and O3B Network Limited partner on Satellite Broadband Project – How to set up a Satellite Broadband Network

Friday, June 27, 2014

Google and O3B Network Limited partner on Satellite Broadband Project – How to set up a Satellite Broadband Network

“Internet connectivity significantly improves people's lives. Yet two thirds of the world have no access at all”

Google spokesperson speaking on condition of anonymity to the Wall Street Journal when asked about alleged plans to launch 180 Satellites in a bid to set up a Satellite Broadband Network

Google is seems, has plans to rule the World and harbours thoughts of Global Domination. Folks, queue the Song The World is Not Enough by the Rock Group Garbage!

This as there’s word floating about on the Internet since Sunday June 1st 2014 that’s suggesting that Google’s planning to launch Satellites to provide Satellite Broadband Services as reported in “Google is building 180 Satellites to spread internet access worldwide”, published JUNE 1ST 2014, AT 9:41:00 PM ET BY JON FINGAS, Engadget and “Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access”, published June 1, 2014 7:48 p.m. ET By ALISTAIR BARR and ANDY PASZTOR  CONNECT, Wall Street Journal.

At that time, it wasn’t so clear, as I hadn’t done an article on it, decided instead to wait on more details to emerge.  Up to that point, all that was known was mostly rumours, most of which Google is yet to confirm. It was claimed that Google's Satellite venture is a partnership between themselves and Dutch-based O3b Networks Ltd, which specializes in Low Altitude Circular Orbit  and Medium Altitude Elliptical Orbit in the 1,500 lb category.

People close to the situation claim that it might involve a deployment of some 180 small 113 kg (250 lb) custom-built Satellites, probably running Google Android as their Operating System as stated in “Google reportedly launching 180 Satellites for global internet service”, published June 2, 2014 03:04 am  by Rich McCormick, The Verge.

At the current going rate, 180 Satellites would cost around US$2.64 billion to US$3.85 billion dollars, making this a very cost-effective and cheap venture when compared to some of Google’s own acquisitions or any money spent by anyone this year to acquire companies. This is part of Google's continuing push to get Internet access to parts of the World that do not have Broadband from their Telecom Providers and ISP (Internet Service Providers).

In the process, they’d generate more Search Engine Revenue and thus increase their value over time. It’s for this reason that this article is being written, as this suggests that Google is becoming a Telecom Provider.

Defectors joining Google – Satellite Broadband can replace Terrestrial Internet Broadband

So Folks, this is serious!

Google’s basically going to war with the Telecoms Industry by creating their own Satellite Broadband Network to deliver Internet! This as potentially in the future, with decreasing Satellite Network Costs and other technical improvements, it may prove a lot cheaper than having a ground-based Telecom Network.

The principals involved within Google are ex-O3b employees Mr. Greg Wyler, who happens to be their founder, O3b's former chief technology officer, Mr. Brian Holz and Technology Chief David Bettinger of VT iDirect Inc, a Satellite-Communications Contractor who allegedly joined Google on Tuesday May 27th 2014 as suggested in “A Space Race in Silicon Valley”, published May. 27, 2014 2:00 PM PDT By Amir Efrati, The Information.

Some 20 other hirelings are from Space Systems/Loral LLC, a Satellite Design Contractor and are allegedly involved in this partnership to build this massive fleet of 180 Satellites. All very hush-hush, as Google may be doing this in response to Telecom Provider AT&T’s purchase of Direct TV in a bid to set up their own Global Satellite Broadband Network.

This by the way is a dream of AT&T’s, who are also pursing the same exact thing as explained in my blog article entitledAT&T buys DirectTV for US$48.5 Billion Dollars - Spectrum Grab for Satellite Broadband to compete with Google and Facebook” and in fact is a part of their foundational history.

The most amusing outcome of this is that Google has the potential to shake up the Telecommunications Industry worldwide, and not just in AT&T’s backyard. This by competing with overpriced Telecom Providers in many countries and providing competitively priced Broadband Internet access as explained in “How Google Could Disrupt Global Internet Delivery by Satellite”, published June 4, 2014 By David Talbot, MIT Technology Review and “Google Invests Billions on Satellites to Expand Internet Access”, published June 4, 2014, Scientific American.

Eventually, in a few years, if planned right, it may even be cheaper than Terrestrial Based Broadband Systems. This as to increase Broadband Speeds would merely be a matter of remotely upgrading Firmware via each of the Satellites uplink frequencies or launching new satellites, possibly four or five at a time per launch.

Google and Satellite Broadband – the Other Three Billion and Broadband Internet

Google’s interest in Satellite Broadband started in 2013 with Project Loon, a Project involving 30 Balloons with Satellite Transceivers that  provided high speed Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11ac) Internet with speeds equivalent to 3G Internet to people living in remote parts of New Zealand, as mentioned in “Google Plans To Spend $1B On Satellite Internet For Remote Regions”, published 6/02/2014 @ 10:07AM, by Jay McGregor, Forbes.

Google's recently stepped up their game with the purchase of Titan Aerospace early in April 2014 and their fleet of Solar Powered Flying Drones to do the same exact thing as Project Loon as stated in “Google to Buy Titan Aerospace as Web Giants Battle for Air Superiority”, published April 14, 2014 7:26 p.m. ET By ALISTAIR BARR and REED, Wall Street Journal and “Google buys solar-powered drone maker Titan Aerospace”, published 14 April 2014 Last updated at 19:03 GMT , BBC News.

So goes the musings of President of Irwin Communications Inc, Susan Irwin a firm involved in doing Research into Sat-Com Design and Networks, quote: “Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable. Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access”.

From a Business point of view, this might all seem crazy for a Search Engine Provider to be messing around in the ISP Business, regarded as the domain of Telecom Providers. It might also seem a tad wasteful and an extravagance, as Balloons and low flying Solar Powered Airplanes, even if they were semi-autonomous or controlled by their own AI (Artificial Intelligence), require Maintenance via a Global Network of Satellite Tracking Stations connected to Network Technicians in a NOC (Network Operations Center). Blimps would be a lot better, being as they’d require less maintenance.

Such maintenance activities would be costly and would quickly outstrip the revenue being made from the venture, as providing Internet Access to the World's poor, even if ad-subsidized from Google Searches, isn't guaranteed to be a money-maker. After all, people in these Developing World countries have to have cheap access to computers as well as Satellite Transceivers to access these signals from above and use the Internet.

Making revenue from them directly would present its own challenges, as they're unlikely to have Credit Cards albeit they might have access to Mobile Money services, as is the case in places like Zimbabwe or Haiti as explained in my blog article entitledDigicel to roll out Mobile Money Service in 2014 - Haiti Tcho Tcho Mobile Love is Bringing the Boom with ScotiaBank heralds Cashless Society by 2015”.

Pricing concerns would also be an issue, as it would have to be priced to compete with other ISP’s and still be able to turn enough revenue to make the venture worthwhile. And in cases where they can, such as in remote part of Europe and Russia, it's only a matter of time before Telecom Provider Develop their own Last Mile Solutions that'd put the Kibosh on their plans overall.

Google and the Satellite Broadband Project – Project Loon to get the Kibosh but the Drones are ok

Based on my work experience with Satellite Broadband having worked at C&W (Cable and Wireless), now LIME Jamaica (2001 to 2004) and then later at CLARO Jamaica (2008 to 2009), having designed their Network as plainly evident on my Engineering Resume and Diploma and Degree qualifications Google would also have to decide what exactly they plan to do going forward.

They can't keep Project Loon and have Titan Aerospace and O3b Networks Ltd. They'd have to eventually scrap Project Loon altogether as maintain the Balloons is difficult, being as they have to be re-gassed with Helium ever so often and their Altitude and direction micromanaged from control stations on the ground.

Titan Aerospace and their Solar Powered Drones are different from Project loon, which was basically a floating Wi-Fi Hotspot; this would be a true Satellite Broadband Service using lower flying high Bandwidth Uplink and Downlink Ku and Ka-Bands to deliver Broadband to persons on the ground, possibly using with C-Band or Ku-Band Transceivers.

The Solar-powered Drones on offer by recently acquired Titan Aerospace are a better bet, as not only can they stay aloft longer, but they also can be flown on AI Autopilot in a preset path as was demonstrated by as stated in “Google buys Solar-powered drone company Titan Aerospace”, published April 14, 2014 11:28 AM PDT by Nick Statt, CNET News.

They'd be good for low-Orbit provision of Satellite Broadband and would pay for themselves over time. But Google would still have the problem of providing uplink to these Drones, as using ground based C-Band to Ku-Band to communicate with Aircraft albeit effective, is difficult as the Aircraft may not always be within the Radio Uplink Antennas LOS (Line of Sight).

In fact the frequencies available to them may already be crowded with Telecommunications based traffic, as evidenced from AT&T’s purchase of DirecTV in order to get spectrum as concluded my blog article entitledAT&T buys DirectTV for US$48.5 Billion Dollars - Spectrum Grab for Satellite Broadband to compete with Google and Facebook”.

To that end, Google will needs a fleet of Low Altitude Circular Orbit to have constant guidance Communications with their fleet of Solar-powered Drones as well as to provide uplink and downlink for the provision of Internet. This as the Drones would function as receivers of the Data Communications either on the Ku or Ka-Bands and convert those signals to frequencies to signals in the C-Band for Satellite Broadband Receivers on the ground to have Internet access.

Google and O3B Networks Limited – How to build a Satellite Broadband Network

With that part taken care of, Google would have to choose what Orbital pathway would be suitable for their Satellite Network. In fact there are three Orbital pathways that Google and O3b Networks Ltd can choose from:

1.      100 to 300 miles (161 to 483 km) - Low Altitude Circular Orbit
2.      6000 to 12,000 miles (9656 to 19,312 km) - Medium Altitude Elliptical Orbit
3.      19,000 to 25,000 miles (30,578 to 40,234 km) - High Altitude Geosynchronous Orbit

As any Jamaican Geography student in High School should tell you, the Sun rises from the East and Sets in the West, which implies that the Earth rotates from West to East and that the Earth has a circumference of 26,250 miles (42245 km).

Thus assuming that the Satellite and the Earth are traveling in the same direction, at Low Altitude Circular Orbit, a Satellite would travel at 17,500 mph and would take approximately 1hr 30 min to Orbit the Earth, but would only be seen by a particular Earth Station for approximately 15 minutes.

At Medium Altitude Elliptical Orbit, that a Satellite would travel at 5250 mph and would take approximately 5 hrs to Orbit the Earth, but would only be seen by a particular Earth Station for approximately 2 to 4 hrs per Orbit. Satellites at High Altitude Geosynchronous Orbit travelling at 6879 mph would Orbit the Earth in approximately 24 hours and would be in constant view of the Earth Station just below.

There are in fact three (3) known Orbits for these three Altitudes:

1.      Equatorial Orbit - Satellite rotates along the Equator in the direction as or opposite to the Earth's Rotation
2.      Polar Orbit - Satellite rotates along the Polar Axis
3.      Inclined Orbit - Satellite rotates at an angle that's between the Equatorial and Polar Orbits

The point of crossing the Equatorial Line in an Inclined Orbit from South to North is called an Ascending Node and the point of crossing the Equatorial Line in an Inclined Orbit from North to South is called a Descending Node.

High Altitude Geosynchronous Orbit are desirable, as they cover large swathes of the Earth and it would only take three such Satellites equally spaced across the Equator at 120 Degrees to cover the entire Earth. Polar High Altitude Geosynchronous Orbit would be equally desirable as a single Satellite in a Polar Orbit is rotating around the Earth in a Longitudinal Orbit while the Earth rotates latitudinally West to East, resulting in most places on the Earth being covered twice in a 24 hour day.

Consequently, the Satellites radiation pattern around the Earth looks like a Barber Pole. Also, interestingly, it's basically the satellite map often shown in movies such as GoldenEye, being as it’s more exciting than seeing the Trajectory map of a Satellite in Equatorial Orbit!

Unfortunately, at High Altitude Geosynchronous Orbit, the Latency or transmit receive delay for Data signals is unacceptably high at 500 to 600 milliseconds. It also requires more fuel to maintain satellites in such Orbits with a full time staff at an Earth Station to maintain them in Orbit. Additionally, they require higher power transmitters and consequently tend to be bulkier, as they have to have bigger Solar panels.

At those higher altitudes, there’s also need for more shielding from Micro-Asteroids, the Earth's Magnetic Field and consequently the Van Allen Belts of charged particles from the Sun. Don't forget Cosmic, X-Ray and Gamma Radiation in the frigid cold vacuum of space, as those can cripple the satellites onboard electronics!

This isn't so bad for Residential customers. But the Bread-and-butter clients, the Business customers, would not use this, as they'd find the lag time too slow, especially for Traditional Voice Communications, Video Telephony and Data Transmission. So High Altitude Geosynchronous Orbits are out of the picture.

Google instead plans to use a Medium Altitude Elliptical Orbit, as that would reduce latency to more acceptable, business Friendly levels of around 150 ms. They might even make the Satellites a lot smaller, say around 250 lb (113 kg) and set a large swarm of them in Low Altitude Circular Orbit.

This would of course mean that they have to have more Satellites than the planned 180, probably around 250 of them which is a smaller payload as they'd require less energy. It would also mean that they'd be in constant danger of losing such Satellites, as they'd easily be caught in the drag of the Earth's upper atmosphere and depending on the angle, either bounce off the upper atmosphere and be thrown out of Orbit or re-enter the Earth's Orbit and be burned up.

To keep track of their Satellite fleet would be a lot cheaper too, as instead of using an Earth Station, as is the case with Satellites in High Altitude Geosynchronous Orbit, they could use a phased Array Antenna. Allegedly Antennas designed by Kymeta Corp, a partner with O3b Networks Ltd, can do the job and actually lack any Guidance System, requiring only software and an Omni-directional Antenna design to track the Satellites and communicate with them.

As it relates to customers, they'd have a Transceiver on their house similar to a LNB (Low noise Bandpass) Dish on their house or business-place. The Solar Powered Drones would provide Internet in populated areas, with the Satellites providing coverage in sparse covered areas.
Despite the failure of others in attempting to provide Satellite Broadband, with such noteworthy failures such as Microsoft-backed Teledesic LLC and Iridium Satellite LLC back in the 1990, the technology has vastly changed and we now have Satellite deployment down to a Science.

Plus Google has the wherewithal to invest in a grand Project of this magnitude, so long as they're able to contain costs, using these previous failures as blueprints as to what NOT to do when trying to set up a Satellite Broadband Network. Already positive signs have emerged of a possible Payload partnership with a Private Space Firm, British-based Virgin Intergalactic, to put their satellites into these Medium Altitude Elliptical Orbit and Low Altitude Circular Orbit as suggested by the article “Google in talks to nail Virgin as 'partner' in satellite internet plan”, published 13 Jun 2014 By Brid-Aine Parnell, The UK Register

So can Google pull this ambitious Project off? And will it be an American-European Partnership or Consortium of companies that finally lifts this super-ambitious plan off the ground!?

First they’ll have to confirm this Project, of  which they’ve made no mention at Google I/O being held since Monday June 23rd 2014 and slated to end Friday June 27th 2014 as stated in “Here’s what's new at Google I/O 2014”, published June 25, 2014 2:04 PM PDT by Nate Ralph, CNET News and “Everything You Need to Know About Google’s I/O Keynote”, published 06.25.14 12:20 pm By Mat Honan, Wired.

Follow this blog as I’ll be doing a follow-up on this story if and when Google confirms this at Google I/O, as that would make them an excellent competitor against AT&T in their bid to take over the World, Pink and the Brain Style!

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