Service isn’t due to start until October, but last week the press had its first chance to get up close and personal to the first batch of O3b (serving the ‘Other 3 billion’) satellites at the Thales Alenia satellite facility near Rome. The first four satellites are scheduled to be launched in June, with another four following on in September.
The craft will operate around the Equator at a height of 8069 kilometres. However, demand from normally cautious telcos and other service providers has seen a rush of bookings for bandwidth on the new satellites. As at mid-June, the company had firm bookings worth about $750 million. Last week, another $100 million-worth of bandwidth was reserved by West Africa Telecom. These combined sums suggest that O3b’s first year of trading can be successful given that most clients hold back their firm orders pending the successful launch of the satellite constellation.
O3b says the final four craft in this first cluster of 12 will be ready for launch next year, but O3b can function with just eight satellites in orbit. Next year, O3b – backed by the likes of SES, Google and Liberty Global – will decide how many other satellites to build. The constellation could expand to up to 120 units, and supply broadband connectivity to the ‘The 3 billion’ under-served, or zero-served, by existing suppliers.
To put O3b into perspective, the current batch of 12 satellites contains the equivalent of 1000 conventional satellite transponders.