Google backs plan to connect the other 3bn

Google has thrown its weight behind a US$750 million (€532.3 million) plan to bring internet access to 3 billion people in Africa and other emerging markets, according to the Financial Times.

This is to be achieved by launching at least 16 satellites to bring services to "˜other 3 billion', for whom building out fibre optic networks is not commercially viable and after whom the new venture, O3b Networks, is named.

The other main parties involved are the American media mogul John Malone and HSBC to set up O3b Networks. Clearly they are nothing daunted by the abject failure of the Teledesic, Globalstar and Iridium satellite schemes launched in the 1990's.

The FT says that the partners are to announce an order today for 16 low earth satellites (LEOs) from the French Thales Alenia Space as the first step to connect mobile masts in many countries within five degrees of the equator to fast broadband networks.

Entrepreneur Greg Wyler founded O3b Networks and was quoted saying its satellites would be operational by the end of 2010. Wireless spectrum required for the service had been secured through the International Telecommunication Union.

Other partners might be sought at a later date.

Microsoft was famously an investor in Teledesic, which eventually merged with ICO and faded away. For the sake of the other 3 billion, let's trust that Google's commitment is more than a desire to outdo its arch-rival and, more to the point, that O3b Networks succeeds.

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