Google is reportedly planning to invest more than $1 billion to create a fleet of satellites that will be used to extend internet access to regions without fixed networks.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the project will start with 180 small high-capacity satellites that will orbit the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites.
The spending on the project could rise to $3 billion, depending on whether a later phase that could double the number of satellites takes place.
The satellite efforts are headed by Greg Wyler, the founder of satellite communications start-up O3b Networks. Wyler recently joined Google, along with the former CTO of O3b, the sources said.
Another source said Google has hired engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral to work on the project.
Google is likely to face regulatory challenges with the project, such as working with other satellite operators to ensure transmissions from its satellites don’t interfere with others.
The web giant is working on several other projects to boost internet access in regions that have minimal fixed infrastructure.
In April, it agreed to acquire Titan Aerospace, a start-up developing solar-powered drones which are intended to eventually be able to fly continuously for up to five years. However, Google said the proof-of-concept technology is “nowhere near deployment”, while it is “very early days” for long-duration solar-powered flight.
Google also has Project Loon in which solar-powered transmitters attached to helium balloons are being tested for their potential to provide internet access to the developing world.
Astro Teller, who oversees the Google X team behind Loon, recently said Google plans to lease the balloons to mobile operators as they pass over the regions in which they operate.
Google rival Facebook recently unveiled its Connectivity Lab which is working to bring internet access to emerging markets through the use of “new platforms for connectivity on the ground, in the air and in orbit”.
The social network was reportedly in discussions with Titan but instead opted to pay $20 million for UK-based Ascenta, which is working on similar technology.
Facebook’s team, which includes members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Ames Research Center and the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory, is looking to make use of free-space optical communication (FSO), which can transmit data in space using infrared laser beams.