“Under-connected” countries will get faster, more affordable internet access after cheap satellites are shot into space.
Billions of people who struggle with slow internet access are to get quicker connections when a dozen new satellites are shot into space.
The first four satellites will be carried into orbit by the Russian Soyuz rocket, as part of a project to offer affordable, high-speed access to people in around 180 “under-connected” countries.
The launch has been delayed by at least 24 hours due to adverse weather.
Users will lock on to the satellites in the same way they might with GPS handsets.
Internet pioneer Greg Wyler, who launched the scheme after finding it difficult to get online during a trip to Russia in 2007, said: “Access to the internet backbone is still severely limited in emerging markets, whether landlocked in Africa or isolated by water in the Pacific Islands.
“Only when emerging markets achieve affordable and ubiquitous access to the rest of the world will we observe locally-generated content, widespread e-learning, telemedicine and many more enablers to social and economic growth.”
The project is dubbed O3b after the “other three billion” people in the world with restricted internet access.
A constellation of small satellites will hover above the equator, covering a vast area that includes the entire African continent, the Middle East, southeast Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands and most of Latin America.
Existing geostationary satellites provide similar services but their cost is prohibitive for many people.
Orbiting at around 36,000km (22,000 miles) above Earth, they take around half a second to bounce signals back to the planet.
The cheaper, lighter O3b satellites will be closer to Earth and communicate four times faster.
Another four orbiters will be launched within weeks, with the final four set to arrive in space next year.