Today Google, along with HSBC and a few other investors, helped place an order for 16 low-orbit Thales Alenia satellites to begin the push for a massive broadband deployment in equatorial Africa that it hopes will help connect 3 billion people in the world who are currently webless. It's a noble plan, with quite a long ways to go.
Google and their partners threw in US$60 million out of the required $150-$180m into the kitty of O3b Networks (the other 3 billion, get it?), the firm established to launch the satellites and manage the initiative. A satellite downlink is of course only the first step in setting up a fresh broadband network, but the company also has plans to convert mobile phone towers into multipurpose high-speed network nodes, which when complete is estimated to cost US$750m all told. When the satellites are launched in 2010, that's one step closer to 3 billion more new Googlers, looking at AdSense ads all the way, of course. [Financial Times via /.]