WorldVu, a Satellite Startup Aiming To Provide Global Internet Connectivity, Continues To Grow Absent Clear Google Relationship

by
WorldVu Satellites earlier this year appeared to be establishing a relationship with Google (its Mountain View, California headquarters above), but that relationship now is less clear. Credit: Google
WorldVu Satellites earlier this year appeared to be establishing a relationship with Google (its Mountain View, California headquarters above), but that relationship now is less clear. Credit: Google

PARIS — A startup company that has secured Ku-band spectrum from international regulators for a constellation of several hundred satellites to provide global Internet connectivity has grown to 30 people, most of them engineers, working on system design independently of the company’s relationship with Google, industry officials said.

The company, WorldVu Satellites Ltd., based in Britain’s Channel Islands, earlier this year appeared to be establishing a relationship with the Internet search giant, but that relationship now is less clear, one official said.

But as was the case with O3b Networks, which like WorldVu was started by telecommunications entrepreneur Greg Wyler with Google support, WorldVu’s development is not tethered to Google. Google remains an O3b shareholder but the company’s principal owner is satellite fleet operator SES of Luxembourg.

The industry official said WorldVu has established relations with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. founder Elon Musk, but that no formal relationship between Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX and WorldVu has been established, nor has any contractual commitment been made to launch WorldVu’s low-orbiting constellation aboard SpaceX’s Falcon rocket.

O3b, which has launched its first eight satellites and has four more to following in 2015, is focused on using low Earth orbit to deliver low-latency Internet trunking over an area between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south of the equator.

WorldVu’s global ambition is to deliver high-speed data access to communities now without it, and to serve individual industrial sectors — commercial airlines is one example — with global footprints and customers that do have the bandwidth they have at home and at work.

The current WorldVu design, which has been granted radio spectrum rights by international regulators, would beam some 2 gigahertz of Ku-band using nongeostationary satellites at between 800 and 950 kilometers in altitude. WorldVu’s system design is for more than 300 satellites.

WorldVu is standing on the shoulders of SkyBridge, a late-1990s attempt to use the same spectrum that ultimately collapsed in part because the satellite and ground-terminal technology it needed was too expensive.

Before it disappeared, however, SkyBridge waged an occasionally intense debate with existing satellite fleet operators about whether dozens of SkyBridge satellites in low orbit would interfere with the standard telecommunications satellite fleets in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers over the equator.

Regulators ultimately agreed that SkyBridge could be operated in such a way as to avoid interference with higher-orbiting satellites using the same Ku-band spectrum by making regular adjustments to its power levels.

The SkyBridge spectrum allocation had gone nowhere on the books of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) — the Geneva-based United Nations affiliate that regulates orbital slots and wireless spectrum use — before WorldVu made its filing several years ago.

One industry official said WorldVu has been financed by investors who, for the most part, are unaffiliated with Google. Under WorldVu’s ITU regulatory filing, the company has until 2019 or 2020 to begin initial service.

Assuming the standard satellite constellation design and deployment time, that would give WorldVu at least two years before it needs to begin hardware construction.

“The company’s relationship with Google remains good but Google’s ultimate involvement in it remains unclear,” the industry official said. “But that relationship’s evolution has not affected the system design at WorldVu.”