Google’s next venture? Satellites for global internet

BY Sarah Corapi  June 2, 2014 at 4:08 PM EST
Google plans to broaden Internet access around the globe, reports the Wall Street Journal. Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Google plans to broaden Internet access around the globe, reports the Wall Street Journal. Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images

The world’s most popular search engine, Google, could be taking a pretty big step towards expanding its business. According to the Wall Street Journal, the tech giant plans to acquire a new fleet of satellites that would expand internet access to unserved areas across globe — at a cost of more than $1 billion.

Google’s venture will reportedly start with 180 small yet high-capacity satellites that will orbit the Earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites — and eventually that number could double. Greg Wyler, founder of the satellite-communications startup O3b Networks Ltd., will head the project, working with a team of about 10 to 20 people.

But with such a hefty price tag, what’s the payoff for Google? It’s all about business growth: satellite internet can reach new users.

“Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas,” said Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications Inc., a satellite-communications research firm. “Satellites can gain much broader access.”

More new users means more revenue and in turn, higher earnings.

In fact, the new satellite venture is only one of the ways in which Google is focusing on broadening its reach. The company’s Project Loon aims to use high-altitude balloons to bring broadband connectivity to remote regions; they’re also developing solar-powered drones to deliver the same kind of service.

Of all these options, satellites provide the greatest capacity.

Jeremy Rose of Comsys, a London-based satellite consulting firm, says that if Google succeeds, it “could amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet, from the Third World to even some suburban areas of the U.S.”