O3b Networks is one of a new breed of satellite communication providers to remote, challenging, and insufficiently- connected markets.
Insatiable demand for connectivity is raising a new breed of satcom providers
In 2013, O3b successfully launched four satellites, with four more following in July 2014. These satellites are now fully operational, delivering fibre- like quality and performance to 180 countries and more than 70% of the world’s population. Writing for OffComm News Teresa Cottam caught up with VP of Global Enterprise, Simon Maher to find out why there’s a growing buzz around O3b Networks. OCN: Simon, as the new kids on the block, what do you think sets you apart from more familiar names in the satellite industry?
SM: Firstly, I don’t advocate that we’re about replacing familiar names - in fact, our technology is hugely complementary to existing investments. Instead it’s about using our unique capabilities to provide more choice to oil & gas firms. We offer choices that haven’t previously been available, shaking up the established norms for connectivity in remote or challenging environments. In the past, firms have often had to choose between performance and cost. Traditional GEO capacity, for example, may be too expensive while still not providing the speed that today’s firms are looking for. On the other hand, fibre isn’t always available or may not be reliable enough ( particularly where there’s geo- political instability, for example). With our technology, not only can firms get the high- speed, reliability, and low- latency that they’re used to getting from fibre, they can also deliver this fibre- like performance at a price- point that’s really compelling. OCN: You highlighted low latency as being one of your key differentiators, why is that so important?
SM: Our latency figures are pretty unique at sub 150 milliseconds for the round trip. This sets us apart in a market moving towards a more real- time operational model, to boost operational performance. In addition to increased productivity though, real- time operation also enables firms to make better and safer decisions. Delays to critical real- time data due to high levels of latency therefore not only threaten to raise costs, but also create production and safety risks in this new operational mode. The high level of reliability and throughput we provide, combined with really low latency, allows firms to develop completely new real- time applications. Effectively, we’re acting as the enabler of, or the transport to, their real- time vision. OCN: Reliability has long been a critical issue for oil & gas firms, how can O3b help improve that?
SM: Undoubtedly, achieving high levels of reliability is a fundamental requirement for the industry today. In fact, that’s why many firms are pushing to deploy fibre to offshore installations to get the level of reliability and performance they need. There are two typical scenarios as to how we can help. Firstly, where fibre is deployed, firms are using us to provide a diverse route to back that up. The consequences if there’s an outage or an accident, and the fibre link is lost or disrupted, can be pretty severe: the firm may have to stop drilling or even evacuate the platform. That’s where we can step in and provide that fibre- like performance to ensure continuity. Where fibre isn’t available – for example on ultra deep water platforms or in areas of political instability - we’re seeing a second scenario, where customers are using us to enable a completely new architecture. In this case we’re literally revolutionising their performance by opening up the bandwidth bottleneck. Now they can now roll out demanding data services where previously they only had narrowband and mobile voice services. OCN: Beyond operational performance does this deliver any other benefits?
SM: Yes, when you have enough bandwidth, the low latency we talked about, and the reliability sorted out then you can deliver totally new ways of working. So one conundrum facing oil & gas
firms is to determine where the best place is to put their incredibly valuable subject matter experts. Increasingly, they’re deciding to bring these experts back onshore to a centralised place where they’re safe and working conditions are better. But if you’re going to do that, then these experts need real- time data in order to get their jobs done, along with HD communications and perhaps videoconferencing to facilitate better collaboration and control. Crew are also generally becoming much less tolerant of constrained communications and are making contract choices based on the communications facilities that are provided. That’s an issue that HR is increasingly flagging up as it battles to recruit and retain the right people, demonstrating how differentiating adequate data communications are these days. OCN: Where is O3b currently active Simon, and what sort of feedback are you getting from early users of your technology?
SM: O3b’s satellites are placed in orbit 8062 kilometres above the earth, providing around 70% of the world's population with fibrequality internet connectivity and enabling us to support services globally. We cover emerging and insufficiently- connected markets in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, where there’s a collective population of over three billion people. We’ve been pretty active in the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa, and we now have upwards of 30 customers in markets ranging from the Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The reaction to O3b’s service has been absolutely spectacular. Service statistics from customer field deployments confirm that we’re meeting or often times, exceeding our comprehensive Service Level Agreements, including link up- time, latency and throughput. In fact, once they’ve tried what we have to offer, customers are so enthused by what it enables, they’re determined not to go back to the bad old narrowband days.
OCN: Thanks for talking to us Simon. Do you have any last words?
SM: The key message is that O3b provides you with choice. We expand the choices available to operators, and offer them fibre- like performance at a cost point that’s highly competitive, in places where you are often not be able to reach with fibre.
Simon Maher, VP of global enterprise sales, O3b Networks