After seeing its first four satellites launch successfully in June, O3b Networks has been dealt a blow by the news that its second group of four satellites will not be ready for launch until the first quarter of next year. However, the company has continued to sign new partnerships and prepare for operations. One of the recent deals signed was with Kymeta to develop flat panel satellite antennae, and the company was also granted a key regulatory approval in Brazil.
Steve Collar, CEO of O3b Networks, explained that after working together for 12 months, the operator was ready to take its relationship with the company to the next stage. “Kymeta has very interesting flat panel antenna technology, which can be used to build low-profile tracking antennae to address different market segments for O3b. These antennae will have no moving parts and a smaller footprint than the first generation of O3b ground antennae,” he said. “We see direct benefits of this technology in segments that we address today such as mobile backhaul and enterprise, and we think Kymeta will also help enable other applications for O3b in the government space. We have been working with Kymeta for more than a year now, this new deal is building on a previous study that we collaborated on. We think the technology is extremely promising and that the benefits to O3b and its customers will be significant.”
Kymeta is a relatively new company, but Collar is not concerned. “While Kymeta itself is a new company, its parent – Intellectual Ventures – has been working in this area for almost a decade,” says Collar. “We looked at a number of alternative flat panel solutions and felt that Kymeta had the best technology to develop what we were looking for – flexible, affordable flat panel antennae compatible with the O3b system.”
Moving beyond Kymeta, O3b was awarded a license by Brazil’s telecoms agency Anatel to operate in the country. This means the company can use its satellite system in Brazil for an initial period of 10 years, and the license is renewable. Latin America – and Brazil in particular – is a key target focus for O3b, so securing this regulatory approval was a major step forward for the company.
“Brazil is an enormous country with large remote populations, a strong government-backed national broadband plan and a highly developed mobile industry – one of the first to deploy LTE. There are also deep-water offshore resources and an extremely long and challenging border that requires protection and security. In many ways, O3b is the perfect fit for Brazil and vice versa. We already have an agreement with Ozonio, who will begin providing service to northern Brazil in early 2014 and you can expect more announcements about O3b’s activities in Brazil in the coming months,” says Collar.
Collar is optimistic that other regulatory approvals will soon be achieved in the region. “In addition to Brazil, we’ve been very warmly received and supported in Peru by the regulator there. The MTC granted us the authorisations for our TT&C teleport in Lurin, Peru in good time before our first launch. Gateway-type licensing hasn’t been addressed too often by the Peruvian MTC before O3b, and they have been just terrific with us. Regulatory approvals in general can be cumbersome and lengthy processes and that is as true in Latin America as in other parts of the world.”
However, the company remains optimistic it can grow a strong business in Latin America. “One of our main targets in Latin America is to help the Mobile Operators (MNOs) to extend their reach. 3G is being deployed further and further out into the network but the lack of affordable and low latency backhaul has hampered their progress. We have done a significant amount of work with the MNOs and the mobile vendors to demonstrate the compatibility of O3b with the mobile networks and now we have the ability to show the same thing over the satellite network itself.”