SES, one of the world’s leading satellite fleet operators announced that Facebook’s Internet.org has leased capacity on three in-orbit SES satellites to provide Wi-Fi connectivity in sub-Saharan Africa.
This revelation is the latest Facebook surprise for the satellite industry, which had long viewed Facebook’s Internet.org ambition of providing broadband to poor rural areas worldwide as a huge opportunity for satellite operators.
SES said it will provide an undisclosed amount transponder capacity to Facebook from three satellites – Astra 2G at 28.2 east, Astra 2B at 31.4 degrees east, and Astra 4A at 4.8 degrees east. Astra 2G and 4A both have mixed Ku- and Ka-band capacity; Astra 2B is all-Ku-band.
The solution includes Gilat Satellite Networks’ X-Architecture platform that will enable Facebook’s local African partners to deliver internet services to underconnected and unconnected communities using Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi access product.
Max Kamenetsky, director of connectivity deployments for Internet.org, outlined the company’s approach in March at the Satellite 2016 conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
“We are not a satellite company,” Kamenetsky said. “For us, the satellite was an investment where we saw a specific opportunity to deliver services to parts of sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a first step for us to understand this market, which has not been served very well by operators.”
Kamenetsky said Facebook was still grappling with the issue that satellite and cellular network operators have confronted in low-income rural areas: Who will pay how much for connectivity?
“If we were to bring Wi-Fi to community aggregation points, where people are paying between $1 and $3 per month to connect, will people actually use this?” Kamenetsky said.