While Mark Zuckerberg was in Nigeria giving a boost to the country’s ICT gurus and upcoming gurus, and at the same time raising Nigeria’s profile in the wider world, a bigger event that would have a major impact on the country’s internet conectivity took place in far away Florida.
When I first saw the news on BBC, I never looked beyond the headline that screamed about a rocket explosion at the Kennedy Space Center. Though any explosion there is big news, I didn’t bother to read the story knowing if something really important happened out there, l’d hear about it.
It turned out what blew up was really important to me, Africans and our ability to get fast affordable internet.
This Saturday (tomorrow) was supposed to be a momentous day for Facebook’s Internet.org. Their satellite, which was to be used to beam wireless connectivity to many countries in Africa was to be launched into orbit.
But the explosion effectively killed that dream. Internet.org’s satellite was completely destroyed by the explosion.
The cause of the explosion is yet to be determined. The only thing the world knows at this point is that the rocket that was supposed to deliver the satellite into orbit exploded during one of the numerous tests done to make sure everything was OK before launch.
Something went wrong and the rocket, known as Space X, exploded.
Unfortunately, Internet.org’s satellite, known as Amos-6, was close by and became a major casualty of the the explosion.
The Amos-6 satellite was an initiative between Facebook and Eutelsat Communications. The whole idea was announced almost exactly one year ago:
Eutelsat Communications (NYSE Euronext Paris: ETL) and Facebook today announce they are partnering on a new initiative that will leverage satellite technologies to get more Africans online. Under a multi-year agreement with Spacecom, the two companies will utilise the entire broadband payload on the future AMOS-6 satellite and will build a dedicated system comprising satellite capacity, gateways and terminals. In providing reach to large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Eutelsat and Facebook will each be equipped to pursue their ambition to accelerate data connectivity for the many users deprived of the economic and social benefits of the Internet.
Scheduled for start of service in the second half of 2016, the Ka-band payload on the AMOS-6 geostationary satellite is configured with high gain spot beams covering large parts of West, East and Southern Africa. The capacity is optimised for community and Direct-to-User Internet access using affordable, off-the-shelf customer equipment. According to the terms of the agreement, the capacity will be shared between Eutelsat and Facebook.”
Lofty dreams gone up in one devastating explosion.
Though, the satellite is not owned by Facebook or Eutelsat, Facebook had already committed about $90 million for a share of the satellite’s bandwidth over a five year period.
So what happens next? There is still the Aquila project which is also part of the Internet.org initiative to bring superior internet service to poor areas around the world.
Aquila though is still along way from being fully operational as it just did it’s first test flight recently. Apart from that, I have some reservations about how Aquila is going to be operated given that Facebook intends to lease out the completed project to governments, telecoms or big organizations interested in utilizing the technology.
Naturally, Mark Zuckerberg, who is now in Kenya was very disappointed in the while affair and restated Facebook’s commitment to providing affordable high-speed Internet to poor communities around the world.
In a related news, Elon Musk whose companies developed the rocket that dashed the dreams of millions around the world, suffered a huge loss of about $390 million as shares in two of his companies, Tesla and SolarCity, plummeted following the news of the explosion.
I hope Facebook and Eutelsat would look for a new satellite to relaunch the initiative. After all, from all indications, Facebook still have that money burning a hole in their pocket.
What they really lost in the explosion was a five-year bragging rights of being the first western tech firm to beam cheap high-speed internet service to Africa and other poor countries.
image credit: dailymail.co.uk; theverge.com; spacenews.com; eutelsat.com