OneWeb cops $1.25bn for broadband satellite network

The UK startup will launch a network of 650 satellites creating global broadband connectivity.
22 March 2019

Space satellite in orbit (not one of OneWeb’s). Source: Shutterstock

London-based OneWeb has secured £940 million (US$1.25 billion) in new capital funding, as it locks onto the goal of creating a global satellite-based broadband network.

With a planned launch in the latter half of this year, OneWeb’s proposed project would mark a world-first— the result could be access to high-speed broadband anywhere on earth.

The network would be formed of a constellation of 650, low-orbit satellites, with ambitions to provide global connectivity at speeds of 500mb/s with latency below 50ms. The service could become instrumental to emergency services who would be able to access instant connectivity at hard-to-reach locations.

OneWeb’s latest round of funding was led by SoftBank, Grupo Salinas, and Qualcomm Technologies, among others, and has previously received £18 million (US$24 million) from the UK Space Agency.

“This latest funding round, our largest to date, makes OneWeb’s service inevitable and is a vote of confidence from our core investor base in our business model and the OneWeb value proposition,” said Adrian Steckel, CEO.

In total, the company has raised US$3.4 billion, all of which will support its plans to have a network in place by 2021, while it recently celebrated the successful launch of its first six satellites last month, and the near completion of its innovative satellite manufacturing facility with partner Airbus.

“Our success is made possible thanks to the backing of our investors and the cooperation of our world-class commercial partners including Arianespace, Airbus, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., Virgin, and Hughes,” Steckel said.

OneWeb’s venture with the global aerospace giant will see the production of satellites ramp up this Spring at its new manufacturing facility in Exploration Park, Florida. In Q4, OneWeb will begin monthly launches of more than 30 satellites at a time, creating an initial constellation of 650 satellites to enable full global coverage. After this first phase, OneWeb will add more satellites to meet growing demands.

The company faces competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and Telesat and Leosat, but its latest funding round suggests OneWeb’s investors are confident it already has a lead against rivals.

“OneWeb has extended its first-mover advantage and is on track to become the world’s largest and first truly global communications network,” commented Marcelo Claure, COO of SoftBank Group Corp and CEO of SoftBank Group International.

Claure said that Oneweb’s potential is undeniable as the growth in data from 5G, IoT, autonomous driving and other new technologies drives demand for capacity above and beyond the limits of the existing infrastructure.

If successful, OneWeb’s network will enable connectivity for rural communities and schools as well as for business and industries that demand seamless global connectivity solutions such as aviation, maritime, backhaul, and land mobility.

Emergency services are some of those set to benefit. First responders could utilize 200m-wide LTE coverage circles using OneWeb mobile terminals when they are out of reach of cell towers.

To support the deployment of the system, OneWeb relies on high-tech satellite operation centers in both Virginia and in London, and has installed ground stations in Italy, Norway, and Canada, with more on the way.