Google plans investment in satellite fleet to connect remote parts of the world

180 small satellites are planned to be launched, the Wall Street Journal reported

After experimenting with high altitude balloons, Google is now also looking use a fleet of low-earth-orbit satellites to bring Internet access to remote regions of the world.

The company plans to spend between US$1 billion and US$3 billion to initially bring 180 high-capacity satellites in orbit at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday citing people familiar with the matter. The number of satellites used could double during the project.

The project is said to be led by Greg Wyler, the founder of satellite company O3b networks, who recently joined Google with O3b's former CTO, according to the Wall Street Journal. The project aims to overcome financial and technical problems that hindered earlier efforts, the newspaper said.

Google-backed O3b Networks launched its first satellites that aim to provide low-cost and high-speed connectivity to remote parts of the world in June 2013.

O3b's satellites weigh about 680 kilograms but Google plans to use satellites that weigh about 110 kg, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Big tech companies are interested in bringing Internet access, and with it their services, to less connected parts of the globe. Google is already working to deliver Internet access with Project Loon, a fleet of balloons floating in the stratosphere to avoid planes and nasty weather conditions. Its plan is that devices could connect to the balloons using a special antenna.

Facebook is also making efforts to connect the two-thirds of the world that currently don't have access to the Internet. In August it launched  a quest together with six other tech companies to bridge the digital divide.

In March, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave some insights in how he planned to do that. Rather than using balloons, he plans to use drones, satellites and even data-carrying laser beams fired across space. Zuckerberg thinks drones are easier to hold in place than balloons and can last longer, making them a more stable solution.

Despite its balloon and satellite efforts, Google is also interested in drones. It recently acquired drone-maker Titan Aerospace.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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Loek Essers

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