Branson: Virgin, Qualcomm aim to spread broadband to billions

Richard Branson's plan to connect the world
Richard Branson's plan to connect the world

Sir Richard Branson told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday that Virgin Group's partnership with Qualcomm will bring Internet access to countries without it.

"We plan to put an initial array of 648 satellites up, and if that's successful, we want to go to 2,400 satellites," the founder of Virgin Group said. "The idea is to reach the billions of people who don't have Internet access and to do so with reception and good prices."

"I think the biggest beneficiary of this will be third world countries where they're just not getting education," Branson said. "They're not getting all the benefits that come from having internet access."

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Branson added that the project will also benefit the U.S. "There are still many places in America where [people] can't get Internet access, and we'll be able to supply those," he said.

The new satellites will weigh lighter than current ones—about 250 pounds versus 1,000 pounds, he said.

The satellites will be launched by Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne, Branson said. "We believe this is a very efficient way of getting satellites into space," he said. "It's much more efficient than the big rockets of the past. We can literally take off every three or four hours."

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Branson said the initial investment for the first batch of satellites will hover around $2 billion. "We can still be very competitive on prices, as far as the end-user is concerned," he said. "We believe that the break-even of this is not enormous. We feel it makes sense economically as well."

While other companies have tried similar projects and failed, Virgin Group is not deterred, Branson said. "You can build a small satellite for a fraction of the price that you could 10 years ago," he said. "The quantity of satellites will enable us to drive the cost down to an incredibly competitive level."

—CNBC's Katie Kramer contributed to this report.

Correction: This version corrected that Virgin Group made the investment with Qualcomm.