Fast, cheap and ubiquitous internet service … from space!
At least, that’s the current promise from OneWeb, a company that hopes to eventually offer services in the 12 GHz to 18 GHz band to up to 1 billion subscribers worldwide via roughly 600 low-Earth satellites beaming download speeds of up to 200 Mbps, upload speeds of up to 50 Mbps and lower latency that existing services.
And the company is clearly making progress on its promises. OneWeb recently said that, in less than one year, it anticipates its first satellites will be in orbit and operational. And that, starting in 2019, it will enable high-speed access for all of Alaska where homes, tribal health centers and tens of thousands of residents are without adequate broadband access. Within its first two years of service, OneWeb plans to make significant progress toward closing the digital divide in the U.S.
OneWeb is the third major venture from engineer and entrepreneur Greg Wyler, who has been working to connect the unconnected in Africa and elsewhere for almost two decades. Although other tech titans like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk have discussed the possibility of global, satellite-powered internet, Wyler’s OneWeb boasts almost $2 billion in funding from the likes of Qualcomm, Bharti, Coca Cola, Hughes, Virgin Group and Japan’s SoftBank.
Nonetheless, OneWeb has faced setbacks: The planned merger between OneWeb and satellite company Intelsat—a transaction orchestrated by Sprint parent SoftBank—collapsed recently. Intelsat’s bondholders declined to back the transaction. However, Intelsat has said that it will continue to work with OneWeb; meantime, SoftBank is reportedly already seeking a transaction with other satellite firms.
The upshot: If OneWeb is successful in delivering cheap, global internet, the opportunity could be immense—though it would likely take a backseat to faster offerings available in urban areas in developed countries.