Facebook, Google Are, Will Be, ISPs. Will Apple or Amazon Follow?

Few observers would be shocked if Facebook moved ahead with plans to create a satellite-based Internet access service aimed at billions of potential users in the global south. Facebook has talked about using satellites and drones as ways to deliver affordable Internet access services.

Facebook also has discussed other methods, including low earth orbit satellites, and has been working on free satellite-delivered Internet service in Africa.

Boeing Co. said it could get a deal in 2015 to build a high-throughput communications satellite for at least one leading application or device supplier.

The type of satellite Boeing talked about would be deployed in geostationary orbit.

Who the buyer might be is the big question. Some suggest it could be Facebook, Google, Apple or Amazon, or perhaps discussions have occurred with all four firms.

Google already has purchased satellite manufacturing assets, and invested $1 billion in SpaceX , which has announced plans to launch a new fleet of satellites to provide Internet access. Some might note that the Google investment appears to be in SpaceX as an entity, not just the new fleet of satellites.

And Google is testing a variety of methods for supplying Internet access across the global south, including drones, balloons and apparently, satellites.

Separately, OneWeb plans a huge fleet of new low earth orbit satellites to provide Internet access services.

Jim Simpson, vice president of business development and chief strategist for Boeing Network and Space Systems, says big technology firms have direct financial interests in expanded Internet access.

"The real key to being able to do these type of things is ultra high-throughput capabilities, where we’re looking at providing gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes of capability," Simpson said.

Both Google and Facebook have talked about use of satellites as part of efforts to bring affordable Internet access to perhaps billions of people who cannot afford to buy it, or cannot buy it because affordable service provided by terrestrial networks do not reach them,  right now.

It would come as no surprise if Facebook emerged as the buyer, since Facebook has been most open about use of geosynchronous satellites for Internet access.

Some would deem Google a  “not surprising” but also not “most likely” buyer. The big shocker would be if a firm such as Amazon or Apple were the buyers.

Should the deal happen, within a couple of years at least one big app provider would emerge as a competitor to existing satellite retailers and mobile service providers.

It isn’t clear whether most observers would see Amazon or Apple as potentially more dangerous competitors than Google or Facebook, if only because observers expect to see both Google and Facebook get into the Internet access business, in some form. Indeed, Google already is an operating ISP in the U.S. market.

On the other hand, it is conceivable that either Facebook or Google could wind up being partners, to an extent, with mobile operators, though potentially competitive as well. Much depends on whether the new satellite-based ventures are retail or wholesale oriented, or at least what the balance is, between retail and wholesale operations.

That is almost an expectation. What would be more unexpected is an entry by Amazon or Apple into the satellite Internet access business, in some form.
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