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Are Internet Satellites the Future of WiFi? Elon Musk and Greg Wyler Are Betting On It

You may have heard of Project Loon. It’s Google’s attempt to bring Internet connection to the two-thirds of the world that remain unconnected, using high-altitude balloons.

Then there’s Facebook and Internet.org’s Connectivity Lab initiative, which hopes to achieve the same result using aerial drones.

Now Elon Musk has thrown his hat in the ring as well, partnering with ex-Google satellite expert Greg Wyler. Musk hopes to launch a constellation of 700 satellites into orbit, to beam an Internet connection down across the entire Earth.

Greg Wyler in front of O3b logo.
Greg Wyler, ex-Googler and founder of O3b Networks, Ltd.

One major difference between Musk, Wyler & Co. and the other players is the amount of experience and success in relevant fields that the two represent. Among the (many) successful companies Musk has founded is the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX. In 2012, this  was the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, and in 2013, the firm launched its first satellite into orbit.

At Space X, Musk cut costs by eschewing outsourced work and traditional designs in favor of building components in-house and saving money through innovations such as reusable capsules. Musk hopes to apply the same strategy now, designing satellites that weigh about half as much as current equipment, and cost millions less.

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk founded SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors after leaving Paypal, of which he was a cofounder.
Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk founded SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors after leaving online payment processor Paypal, which he also co-founded.

Wyler not only brings knowledge to the table, but resources as well. His company, WorldVu Satellites Ltd., owns the rights to a large chunk of the radio spectrum at the moment (though the two must act quickly if they want to use these before they expire).

Wyler and WorldVu previously were backed by Google, but it is rumored that WorldVu pulled out of the partnership due to doubts over Google’s manufacturing abilities. With Tesla as a partner, WorldVu should no longer have to worry about manufacturing limitations or aerospace engineering talent.

The project is estimated to cost about $1 billion, and investment in the project comes with massive risk. However, the project has world-changing potential if successful.

Only time will tell what will happen.

What do you think of the movement to bring internet connection to the rest of the world?  Who do you think will succeed first?

Saif Tase

Saif is a Computer Science student in the College of Engineering. Get in touch with him over email: stase@syr.edu

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