BT eyes OneWeb’s satellite service for rural broadband

OneWeb satellite broadband rocket launch
BT is just beginning to explore how low-earth orbit satellite systems might be used to support a variety of services. (Roscosmos, Space Center Vostochny, TsENKI)(Credit: Roscosmos, Space Center Vostochny, TsENKI)

U.K. operator BT teamed with satellite company OneWeb to explore how the latter’s service could help close broadband gaps in areas beyond the reach of its mobile and fiber networks.

Working together under a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the companies aim to determine how connectivity from OneWeb’s constellation could be used to deliver increased coverage and capacity to consumers and businesses in remote areas across the U.K. In addition to using OneWeb’s technology to improve mobile service, they will explore other connectivity options including fixed wireless access broadband.

Efforts will initially focus on serving U.K customers, but the pair will also look at opportunities to roll out new global services for BT’s international customers.

A BT representative told Fierce the operator is just beginning to explore how low-earth orbit satellite systems might be used to support a variety of services, adding other partners besides OneWeb could also enter the mix.

BT CEO Philip Jansen in a statement said the operator’s previously announced fiber expansion plan and mobile commitments “have put BT at the forefront of efforts to expand digital connectivity across the U.K.” However, he noted “it is clear that greater partnership is needed, both with government and within industry, to ensure connectivity can reach every last corner of the country.”

Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO, added its satellite service “will be a vital means for bridging the last digital divides across the network and we are excited to be part of the solution with BT to expand the nation’s digital infrastructure.”

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BT’s Openreach division is in the midst of a massive fiber project, working to reach 25 million locations by 2026. In May, it said that figure would include 6 million premises in some of the “hardest-to-serve parts of the country.”

The MoU announcement comes as OneWeb prepares to launch a batch of 36 satellites on July 1, 2021 which will complete its ‘Five to 50’ plan to enable connectivity to locations north of 50 degrees latitude by the end of the year. A series of service demonstrations are set to be conducted over the coming months in Alaska and Canada, OneWeb said.

RELATED: OneWeb launches 36 more satellites for LEO broadband fleet

Its agreement with BT is the latest in a string of deals for OneWeb, which in recent months announced distribution partnerships with Alaska Communications, Pacific Dataport and ROCK Communications and MoUs with AST Group and the government of Kazakhstan, among others.

OneWeb struggled last year, filing for bankruptcy in March 2020. It emerged from protected status in November 2020, after securing investments from the U.K. government, India’s Bharti Global, Japan’s SoftBank Group and satellite service provider Hughes Network Systems.