Skyrockets in Flight, Internet Delight
A webinar audience member recently asked about a country not included in our recent “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy – B2C” survey. His question was, “Where is Algeria?” After our half-joking response – “it’s in Northern Africa, east of Morocco” – we answered seriously that the country doesn’t appear on our list of most desirable online markets for economic and technological reasons.
Why not? Algeria’s GDP hasn’t reached the level of economic performance that attracts many global companies for B2C or B2B. But just as important is that it's still evolving communications infrastructure contributes to a less reliable payment system and a less developed logistical foundation for reliable delivery. In contrast, our Global Revenue ForecasterTM shows that the 29 locales that we did survey represent much stronger environments – and thus better economic opportunities – for companies selling internationally.
But other factors might change. Over the next few years, several companies and governments plan to increase global broadband access – and that should have a knock-on effect for the other elements of online life as they enable instantaneous payments and push other essential ingredients ahead. If they’re successful, they may force us to add Algeria to future “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” surveys. Three moonshot business initiatives promise to bring high-speed internet communications to the whole world – and thus multilingual commerce and communications as well:
- Starlink. The satellite subsidiary of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company will launch 12,000 small satellites to provide broadband access to the entire planet. Musk expects Starlink to earn US$30 billion per year for SpaceX – enough to warrant a separate public offering of its stock. Starlink's mission: “Deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” The company is targeting the U.S. and Canada in 2020, launching 60 satellites every few weeks from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and plans near global coverage by 2021.
- Kuiper Systems LLC. Amazon-funded Project Kuiper will put 3,236 satellites in orbit to provide high-speed internet anywhere on earth. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has committed US$10 billion to the project. In 2018, Amazon’s AWS cloud business announced that it will build a network of satellite facilities. Not surprisingly, Kuiper’s mission: Expand Amazon commerce and services globally – and oh yeah, “provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world.”
- O3b Networks. Luxembourg-based communications provider SES is building a multi-terabit network based on a few dozen O3b mPower satellites. “O3b” stands for the "other three billion" – that is, the number of the world's population that does not have access to reliable broadband communications and internet. Backers include Google with an obvious interest in getting more people using its software and seeing its ads. O3b’s mission: Its messaging includes sound bites such as “enhancing customer experience,” “bringing content to life,” and “driving the cloud everywhere.”
There are other commercial and government communication satellite efforts underway from Cape Canaveral in the United States, Ariane at the French Guiana Space Center in Kourou, Russian at the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and China from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. Except for astronomers who bemoan the nighttime cluttering of near-space with so many reflective objects, there’s benefit all around.
Once sufficient bandwidth is available around the world, you can expect a cascading chain of development leading to more global readiness of other building blocks of commerce, cloud, and other internet-driven business – for example, the greater availability of payment systems that depend on instantaneous transactions, authentication, and other secure commerce components. Then, assuming the economic facts on the ground align with satellite capacity in the sky, companies will use tools like the Global Revenue ForecasterTM to determine whether it’s worth their while to invest in localizing the customer experience in these newly connected markets.
But there could be unintended consequences. While these satellite networks are all designed to provide broadband benefit to all, similar initiatives could hasten the creation of more “splinternets.” Envisioned in 2001 as a way to solve many of the internet’s shortcomings by creating private, safe, secure, or porn-free havens, it has since become the model for the disintegration of the net along political, religious, commercial, and other fissures in the form of firewalls blocking traffic, content, people, or whatever some country decides is objectionable enough to keep out.
It also means that the creators of these splinternets could decide on the rules of their bespoke information superhighways – which include payment systems specific to that network, connectivity protocols that include snooping hooks, and any other overreach that you might imagine.
In any case, splinternets – benign or not – will mean more work and investment for global companies marketing, selling, and supporting their products and services online as they customize solutions not only to language, location, and individual, but to the platforms they run on.
So while we look forward to the sky filling up with satellites guaranteeing high-performance internet wherever we venture, we pay heed to Paul Virilio’s caution in Open Sky, ”Every time you introduce a new technology, you have a responsibility to anticipate not just the good it can do but also the bad it can wreak, not just the glory but also the ruin.”
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