The mission to provide the entire world with high-speed, low-cost internet has been on for decades now. However, it has been almost impossible to get effective coverage with such big companies handling internet access. This is what makes the entry of new players such a blessing.
So far, SpaceX has been the frontrunner with its Starlink service. The service has started sending our terminals to customers, with CEO Elon Musk confirming the first 100,000 terminals being shipped earlier this month.
Liftoff for OneWeb
But there’s a new kid on the block, and it is starting to grow some wings. This month, U.K.-based satellite company OneWeb successfully launched 34 internet satellites into space - a feat that brings the company's total satellite count to 288.
The mission was carried out on a Soyuz rocket designed by Arianespace, and it carried the rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on August 21. Arianespace explained in an update that while the launch had been set for two days earlier. However, the launch attempt was closed late in the countdown clock after engineers found a “non-nominal event during the final automatic sequence.
The issue was eventually identified and fixed, and Arianespace set the new launch date for a day after. However, the launch was pushed for another day after OneWeb requested a delay to allow for some time to make preparations for the mission plans. Arianespace added on Twitter that things were eventually set, and the launch was successful.
As explained, OneWeb now has 288 satellites in space. The company has been making significant moves after it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, and it now plans to launch up to 650 broadband satellites in low Earth orbit.
In a press release, OneWeb explained that it is starting to see growing interest from internet service providers and telecommunications providers for its broadband internet service. Governments have also contacted it to see how they can partner to deliver high-speed, low-latency connectivity services - especially to remote locations.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of rides for OneWeb. Founded in 2012, the company had to declare bankruptcy in March 2020 as its operations were significantly hampered. The coronavirus put development plans on hold, and OneWeb itself struggled with finding funds to keep its operations going. But, it finally got a rescue package thanks to intervention from the British government and Bharati Global - an Indian multinational.
This is now two years since OneWeb launched its first batch of satellites. Since then, the company has been ramping up deployments. Its next launch should come in September when another batch of 34 satellites should be ready for liftoff.
Conquering the Giant
Of course, baby steps won’t cut it for OneWeb this time. The company is facing fierce competition, especially with companies that have much deeper funds for it. As stated, the biggest player in this field is Starlink. Thanks to its affiliation with SpaceX, Starlink has been able to optimize its supply chain and get 1,700 satellites to space.
Interestingly, Starlink began deploying its satellites around the same time as OneWeb. But, thanks to its links with SpaceX, the company has been able to deploy satellites much faster. Being backed by a billionaire definitely helps. With 1,700 satellites now in space, Starlink is already sending out terminals for customers who registered for its beta service.
At the same time, over 500,000 people worldwide have joined the order list - with some having to wait until 2023 to get their terminals installed.
Starlink might even launch in OneWeb’s backyard at this point. The company recently set up a ground station in the Isle of Man - a remote island in the Irish Sea. The plan is to beam its internet services to locations around the island - many of which are remote and won’t be able to get broadband internet from the existing service providers.
Of course, OneWeb is yet to begin its rollout phase. However, the fact that it is seeing interest from several prospective partners will definitely be a source of encouragement. It will be interesting to see how its package compares to that of SpaceX, which currently costs $499.
Also, OneWeb will need to consider whether to start with supplying internet connectivity to these remote areas like Starlink or shoot for the moon and move to urban cities that already get enough internet coverage as well. If its satellite service shows comparable speeds to the existing service providers and can cost less, OneWeb might be able to price customers over to its side.