Fiber-Like, Reliable and Flexible Satellite Links around the World


Currently, the systems for transition of information from satellites to the on-ground stations and between the satellites are constantly developing. This development is directed at the improvement of transition quality, lowering the cost, and making it available to the remote locations. Nowadays, such services are provided by the O3b Company that operates 12 satellites on MEO. The location of the satellites and their amount formed the background for the leading position in the market of satellite communication, because the company provides higher quality of the communication to the uncovered locations compared to its rivals that operate the satellites on other orbits, such as GEO and LEO. The information about the given companies and specifications of their work will be further discovered in the current research paper. The additional attention would be paid to the description of the innovative solutions in the use of MEO satellites and in the application of the new method of the optical information transition. Thus, the description of various global satellite services and the innovative solutions provide the understanding of the considerable popularity of O3b projects in the remote locations.

Literature Review

The current research paper was prepared on the background of the information taken from various relevant sources. The description of the O3b project, its history, and the distinct characteristics are taken from the O3b press kit. From vision to reality. This source is considered to be the most relevant because it provides an overwhelming and, at the same time, reliable data concerning the global provider. This information was supplemented by the data concerning the launching of the first satellite and the current application of the O3b technologies in the maritime sphere. The data was taken from the article O3b launches high-speed satellite internet for the under-connected (2013). The limitations of the chosen system were described in the article Google’s other plan to connect the unconnected: Satellites (2013). The author also noted the distinct benefits of this provider, which cannot be obtained from the use of other providers. The additional attention should be paid to the fact that this article contains relevant information concerning other satellite solutions. The work of satellites, which use other orbits, was covered in the book Crowded orbits: Conflict and cooperation in space (2014). The information concerning the application of the innovative satellite solutions by the COSPAS – SARTSAT was taken from the book RF positioning: Fundamentals, applications and tools (2015). The description and analysis of one more solution, namely the use of optical systems for the transition of the data between the satellites and between the satellite and the ground, was taken from the following journal articles: Overview of the laser communication system for the NICT Optical Ground Station and Laser Communication Experiments on ground-to-satellite links (2012) and Minimizing vibration effects in satellite lased communication (2014).


The information for the preparation of the current research paper was taken from the articles available on the Internet, the official brochure that provides the relevant data concerning O3b system of communication, and the book. All these sources can be found in the free access on the Internet. Such way of searching was chosen due to different factors, which were considered to be the simplest for using. Moreover, the Internet provides the considerable amount of information for the chosen topic. At the same time, it should be mentioned that only relevant sources were chosen for the preparation of the current work. It was one of the major limitations that enable providing the grounded description and analysis of the satellite communication technologies. One more limitation that was applied to the sources was the age of the sources used as all of them were published not earlier than 2010. All the data was thoroughly analyzed and presented in the coherent manner. The current work is focused on the depiction of matters from different perspectives, i.e. providing both advantages and disadvantages of various satellite systems. It enables to determine what systems would be more beneficial for the transition of some particular data. Moreover, it provides the understanding of the popularity of O3b project. The additional attention should be paid to the fact that the collection of the information was connected with several challenges. The first challenge is the insufficient amount of the relevant information concerning the O3b project. The second challenge is connected to the difficulty of some innovative solution presentation and the justification of its relevancy, usefulness, and ability to be realized. At the current moment, there exist a great variety of ideas concerning the future trends of the satellite communications. However, not all of them are checked and proved. The current work describes only viable solutions, which have already been tested, i.e. could be implemented in real life and would really improve the quality of the information transition.

Analysis and Discussion of the Information


Currently, O3b is the single global provider that offers the service of network traffic transportation with lower latency (comparing to long haul fiber) to virtually any place in the world. This company develops and operates the innovative satellite constellation and delivers the highest throughput, availability, coverage, and low latency with the commitment to quality. The customers consider this company as reliable partner that offers affordable prices and high quality services. It is notable, that the company can cover different needs of the great variety of customers represented by private companies, governments, telecommunication companies, and Internet service providers (ISPs) (O3b Networks, 2015). The company is invested and supported by “SES, HSBC, Liberty Global, Development Bank of South Africa, Satya Capital, Google, Northbridge Venture Partners and Allen & Company” (O3b Networks, 2015, p. 11). At the current moment, it offers services to clients in 180 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America (O3b Networks, 2015).

O3b has a diverse line of products that are represented by “O3b Trunk, O3b Cell, O3b Maritime and O3b Energy” (O3b Networks, 2015, p. 11) together with the specific offerings to the governmental sector. O3b Trunk is developed for the telecommunication companies, Internet service providers, and corporate providers. O3b Cell helps increase the quality of mobile services (especially voice, broadband speed), and reduce operating expense, as well as operating expenditures (OPEX) (approximately 30% lower compared to GEO). O3b Maritime was developed for the delivering communication possibilities at the sea. O3b Energy represents the offshore communication product that “offers the performance of fiber with the flexibility of satellite delivered cost effectively and reliably” (O3b Networks, 2015, p. 11).

The company was founded in 2007 by Greg Wyler, who nourished the idea of providing the nationwide telephone service since 2005 in the post-war Rwanda (O3b Networks, 2015). He tried to wire and provide the channel for communication between the individuals inside the country and between Rwanda citizens and the rest of the world. Nevertheless, Mr. Wyler faced the challenge of international fiber connections absence in this area. Hence, Greg Wyler decided to find the investors (Google and Liberty Global) for the creation of the O3b network and realization of his idea (O3b Networks, 2015). The investments helped him collect the team of professionals and develop the project of new constellation of satellites, which would orbit around the Earth closer than the GEO satellites (geosynchronous) and would use the different frequency for the providing higher throughput at lower cost. The first Ka-band satellite was launched by using a “Russian Soyuz ST-B rocket from Kourou in French Guiana” (Cardinal, 2013). This project was successful and the company obtained the ability to create the ground-breaking signals, which could travel the shorter distances and have a new frequency. Hence, the throughput was greater. At the same time, the system allows to eliminate the bottleneck. It enables users from the remote countries (like Rwanda) to connect through the global reach of satellite with the fiber speed. The company announced the start up of the O3b Medium-Earth-Orbit (MEO) project that enables users to connect anywhere on the Earth within 45 degrees of latitude south and north of the equator at affordable pricing (O3b Networks, 2015).

The additional emphasis should be made on the fact that O3b provides a unique solution in communication for the remote locations (especially island territories) where fiber could not be used. The company is constantly searching the partnership with the small companies in such locations. It would enable O3b to provide its services in such areas, and, at the same time, help small enterprises obtain the ability to thrive locally and penetrate the global market. Moreover, the local communities would be provided with a possibility to access substantial social and economic benefits of communication.

The O3b systems incorporate both high-speed fiber and the global reach of satellite by focusing on the high capacity, low cost bandwidth, and fiber-like latency (O3b Networks, 2015). It is reached by means of medium earth satellites use that work at orbit of 8,062 km above the Earth. Hence, the latency is significantly lowered. The company utilizes the multiple spot beams for the increasing of each satellite’s capacity and reduction of bandwidth costs. Initial constellation consisted from 12 satellites, which worked on the orbital inclination of < 0,1 0 with the ground period 360 minutes with 4 contacts per day (O3b Networks, 2015). Such technologies enable the company to provide the optimal coverage between 450 north and south latitudes. The other technical specifications are presented in the Table 1 (O3b Networks, 2015).

Table 1

Specifications of O3b

Specification Figures
Amount of regions 7
Amount of beams 10 beams per region
Number of Gbps Up to 1.6 per beam (2 x 800 Mbps), 84 Gbps available
Beam coverage 700 km diameter
Transponder bandwidth 216 MHz, 2 x 216 MHz per beam

The given table shows that the company used the approach of dividing the Earth into seven regions with having at least one satellite per region at all times. Moreover, every region has its own gateway station used for the connection of the satellite network with the on-land systems (for example, large cellular provider gateways, and smaller and moving ground stations) and even ships (such as passenger vessels Royal Caribbean company (Oasis of the Seas)) (Cardinal, 2013). All these specifications enable reliable, flexible, and secure connectivity.

The additional attention should be paid to the fact that the company develops special terminals, which provide support to the clients all over the world. The advanced technologies make the system easily deployed and maintained, reliable, and affordable. They are also used for the constant optimization of the bandwidth efficiency.

Other Satellite Solutions

Nowadays, there is the great variety of other-like services and satellite technologies. They are provided by different companies and have various origins. However, distinct features of such services form the background for their strong and weak sides and are mostly based on the orbit, where the satellites are working. Currently, there are satellites, which are used for information transition that are working on three orbits: the geostationary orbit (GEO), medium earth orbit (MEO) and low earth orbit (LEO) (Moltz, 2014). The major differences between the companies are based on the different extensions of these orbits from the Earth.

Such companies that have their satellites at the GEO include Echostar, Kacific, and VIASAT (Fitchard, 2013). They follow the direction of the planet’s rotation from more than 22,000 miles above the equator (Moltz, 2014). It is considered to be a fixed and static point for any observer who is on the ground, as it rotates at the same speed as the Earth does. Such position and relative motion of the on-land antennas and the satellite enables to eliminate frequency changes. Moreover, the tracking of GEO satellite by the on-land stations is easier than tracking of the satellites, which work on other orbits. The major benefit is in the remote position that enables to communicate with almost one fourth of the planet. Hence, several satellites provide the communication with almost all planet (except the areas near the south and north poles). As a result, it is widely used by the weather and communication satellites. The major limitation of the equipment that works on this orbit is that the communication through it becomes difficult as the ground user’s latitude increases in the southern or northern directions. The signal becomes weaker after travelling the long distance between the satellite and the on-land station. It occurs due to the atmospheric refraction, line-of-sight obstructions, thermal emissions, and reflections of the signals from the on-ground structures. Such factors cause the delay in sending the signals that depends on the location of the recipient. Moreover, the information is transformed with the assigned frequency over the large area. It can be acceptable for TV broadcasting, but it can cause some difficulties during the point-to-point communications.

As it was noted above, O3b is operating satellites, which work on the MEO. It is the orbit that located at approximately 5,000 to 10,000 miles above the ground. It is considered to be the fiber in the sky as it is located between GEO and LEO (Moltz, 2014). Unlike the satellites, which worked on GEO, the equipment that operates on the other two orbits is traveling overhead instead of tracking with the fixed point. Moreover, they require fewer handoffs. Hence, the use of several satellites at these orbits enables providing the constant coverage, low latency, and higher quality of performance. In case of O3b, it uses the satellites, which work on the given orbit.

Satellite phone companies (such as Globalstar and Iridium (Fitchard, 2013)), military reconnaissance spacecrafts, and the International Space Station (Moltz, 2014) use satellites which work on the LEO that is considered to be the orbit located at the motion of up to 1,200 miles from the ground (Moltz, 2014). It helps decrease the time of propagation and provide the stronger signal for the same transmission power. The coverage of such satellites can be better localized and the spectrum can be conserved more effectively. Therefore, they are widely used for communication through the phones and personal terminals. At the same time, the lower altitude of work creates the necessity of using the considerable amount of satellites for providing of 24 hour communication services. This orbit is widely used by the satellite phone companies (like Globalstar and Iridium (Fitchard, 2013)), military reconnaissance spacecrafts, and the International Space Station (Moltz, 2014).

The Benefits and Limitations of O3B Compared to Other Systems

The location of the MEO satellite constellation result in the fact that O3b has numerous benefits, which enable the company to dominate in the market of the global satellite technologies

There are numerous differences between O3b and the other satellite systems which provide the communication services. The major difference is that the satellites of the company are working at the middle orbit. Hence, they are four timers closer to customers than geosynchronous satellites. At the same time, the company uses the higher vantage point compared to the companies which operate at LEO. As a result, O3b can cover more ground. Moreover, the company supports “much lower latencies (180 milliseconds from mouth to ear) then the big communications orbiters far above them” (Fitchard, 2013).

The additional attention should be paid to the capacity supported by the company. On the one hand, the provided 12Gbps can be considered inconsistent compared to the 140 Gbps supported by VIASAT (Fitchard, 2013). The company’s capacity is insufficient for the coverage of the whole globe and providing the overwhelming communication services to people in all the locations. O3b is “able to provide baseline voice and data connectivity to people who’ve been denied internet access” (Fitchard, 2013). However, unlike VIASAT and other companies which have one or several satellites, O3b currently has 12 satellites which are constantly passing overhead. When one satellite sinks below the horizon, it is replaced by the other. Such constant change enables the continuous and fast connection. At the same time, all the satellites are travelling near equator. Hence, they cannot cover the upper latitudes of the globe. Nevertheless, in the numerous situations, such coverage is unnecessary, because the majority of population (approximately 70 %) live, as well as most maritime transportation is performed between the 45 0 north and south latitudes.

The company does not intend to compete with other communication corporations, which provide broadband directly to consumers. On contrary, it intends to become the main provider that offers the communication possibility and equipment (such as backhaul sell towers and IP trunking) to Internet service providers on remote locations. Regardless of the fact that the company cannot deliver the broadband, it can “bring cell towers and rural ISPs online in remote areas of the world that have never had access to such infrastructure” (Fitchard, 2013).

The New Solutions


The innovative approach of using MEO satellites can be used for the improvement of communication system with vessels. COSPAS-SARSAT intends to upgrade its satellite technologies by the application of “the medium – altitude earth orbit search and rescue system (MEOSAR)” (Saravia, and Lovisolo, 2015, p. 231) for the complementation of the existing GEOSAR and LEOSAR. Such system will be used for the vessels’ repeaters and transponders to transmit the distress messages and provide the information concerning the independent location of the distress beacon. The availability of several MEOSAR satellites will enable multiple satellites relaying of distress messages to several stations located on the ground (Saravia, and Lovisolo, 2015). Consequently, such information will be transmitted faster and more accurately. In its turn, the work of satellites on MEO would eliminate the deficiency of GEO satellites used by the COSPAS – SARSAT. It will reflect in continuous coverage of the geographic areas only defined by the footprints and untimely and improper detection of delays which occurred due to the application of LEOSAR satellites. The possibility of non-receiving of the beacon signals due to the blocking by obstructions would be reduced. At the current moment, the demonstration phase of this solution is completed and the launching is expected in the nearest future.

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