Interview: Colombia’s Skynet Bringing Broadband Internet Trunking To Leticia, Amazonas via O3b Mid Earth Orbit Satellites
Colombian wholesale Internet Service Provider (ISP) Skynet is using the O3b Satellites to provide connectivity in and around the city of Leticia, the capital city of the Amazonas Department in Colombia. Skynet will provide broadband trunking services to Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s), Government entities and enterprise customers. In the near future the service will be expanded to provide 4G LTE mobile services.
The use of O3b satellites, which are closer to the earth than geostationary (GEO) satellites, reduces latency, increases internet speed and improves voice and video quality for the user. Skynet is using O3bTrunk, O3b’s IP trunking solution, which boosts existing link capacities to rival the throughput and latency of long-haul fiber, while avoiding the high costs of laying fiber cables through the rainforest.
Skynet is a leading satellite provider in Colombia, having delivered connectivity from several major MEO (Mid Earth Orbit) satellite operators for some 15 years. The O3b connection will bring broadband service first to Leticia, a city of 45,000 people on the Amazon River in the middle of the jungle, and on the border with cities in Brazil (Tabatinga) and Peru (Santa Rosa).
“We have already seen exceptional reception from end users in and around Leticia,” said Omar Trujillo, O3b Networks VP, Americas. “We’ve worked closely with Skynet on the plan to expand high-speed internet to other remote cities in Colombia, and both companies agree there is a major need we can meet together.”
“Bringing broadband services to people in the heart of the Amazon is a major accomplishment for Skynet, and we could only do that with O3b, The low latency and high throughput will make internet connectivity, and soon mobile data, indistinguishable from major cities across South America. We look forward to bringing the same service to other rural areas of Colombia in the near future.” Mauricio Villamil, Comercial Manager of Skynet (above). Finance Colombia’s Loren Moss reached Villamil by telephone to better understand the technology, and what this means for the residents of Leticia.
Finance Colombia: It is very interesting what you are doing with satellites in Colombia. Now you are providing service to Leticia in the Amazonas department, right?
Mauricio Villamil: It is in the Amazonas effectively, Leticia is the capital of our Amazonas department. It is in the middle of the Amazonas, in the jungle. The nearest point with terrestrial connectivity to Leticia has is more than 900 kilometers away.
In That manner, the solution for putting together the O3B technology and learning from that population is, as say, a very fast timing for the implementation, just about 3-4 months, because it has been a revolution in this region
Finance Colombia: Yes, I think that has been a challenge here in Colombia, providing services outside the major cities. In Bogotá you can have fiber internet at home of 150 megabits per second, but in the rural areas and the countryside, it seems more difficult, it is the challenge of development, where people do not have the opportunity or access, the students, the schools.
So this satellite service, it can also be provided elsewhere in the rural areas such as Norte de Santander or Huila and Cauca. What is the strategic plan to develop the product, the service here in Colombia?
Mauricio Villamil: Ok, well, effectively, the main cities across the country are covered and an optical fiber network has been developed throughout the country. But for areas that have been left behind, Skynet has been able to develop these cities and impact them positively.
So what we are doing is carrying the channel, we are bringing the data highways that these communities need to communicate with the rest of the country. And there, we are already serving most of private sector, the government sector also, in a great percentage, is connected through Skynet. That is basically the growth plan there, keep on striving for a greater capacity and a making a real impact on all communities, which must come in the form of an alliance with the mobile operators.
At the moment that we have started working on solutions for 3G, 4G and LTE with operators in Colombia. With Skynet we will have a greater capacity to operate there in Leticia, but also with these technologies, throughout all the Amazon community, Leticia and cities close to Leticia that connect through microwaves, are going to be impacted and therefore, benefited by this new technology.
Finance Colombia: Is the satellite a much more expensive way of getting Internet service than terrestrial fiber? I imagine that Leticia is a city with a large low income population.
Mauricio Villamil: Leticia is a city with about 40,000 inhabitants, in the Amazonas department, in total the population is about seventy-three thousand inhabitants, with 40,000 in its capital, Leticia. In Colombia the phone fees for mobile internet are controlled by the operators, so when we complete the project, Leticia will have the same phone tariffs that we have today in Bogota.
I think that the service quality will be the same as what we have in the capital cities. I have tried all kinds of services, in my office or in my house in Bogota and the perception of service is very similar, so, we will not only have the same quality perception of the service, but also the same fees as the rest of the country.
Finance Colombia: What is the capacity for the connection or the satellite? What is the total data capacity that you are giving to the telephone operators in Leticia?
Mauricio Villamil: With the currently installed infrastructure, we started with a 100 megabit per second (100Mbps) capacity and with the same infrastructure we can upgrade to a gigabyte, which does not mean that we cannot even further increase this capacity. Thus, what I am trying to say is that with the equipment installed today, in Leticia we can offer a one gigabyte capacity from the moment that additional capacity is required.
Finance Colombia: And I understand latency is not an issue with the satellites due to their distance?
Mauricio Villareal: That’s a really interesting point and very important. I want to tell you how we are operating today. Skynet has been a satellite operator since 1999. We have always operated with geostationary satellites that are 36,000 kilometers in space, in a fixed point over Ecuador and is moving at the same speed as the Earth.
What do we do now? We installed a satellite station and we aimed at that (O3B non geostationary MEO) satellite. Hence the latency, speaking in round terms, we are talking of about nearly 600 milliseconds, and there actually, some types of services are affected. For example, for 3G, 4G and LTE the issue is that it is difficult to operate those formats in geostationary satellites. The O3B satellite constellations, which are twelve satellites of medium orbit, orbit 8,000 kilometers from Earth. It reduces the latency by a quarter, to 150 milliseconds. It is very similar to the latency of a person in Buenos Aires that is navigating to a website in the United States, in Miami, for example. That is a very similar latency that a person might experience in Argentina.
That is why I say that when browsing, sensation and perception of the service is very similar to a ground operation, not as the satellite one; you really do not feel like you are browsing through a satellite.