September 24, 2023

OneWeb, a rival to Elon Musk’s Starlink internet satellite venture, aims to roll out coverage globally after successfully launching the final batch of satellites needed for its broadband service over the weekend.

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The British startup launched an additional 36 satellites on Sunday morning from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, taking the total to 618 satellites so far. The satellites launched at 9 a.m. local time on Sunday on an LVM3 rocket developed by India’s state-owned NewSpace India Ltd.

While OneWeb has a few more satellites to deploy in May and June, according to company officials, it now has enough to deliver internet connectivity to any location in the world. The company hopes to offer its customers worldwide coverage by the end of the year.

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“This means we will be able to provide what has been missing for a long time: high-speed, low-latency broadband connectivity on every ship that goes to sea – yachts, the marine industry, oil rigs offshore – every aircraft will now have a high-speed , linked to low latency connectivity,” OneWeb President Sunil Bharti Mittal said on a call with reporters on Monday morning.

“Deserts, jungles, mountains, the Himalayas – inhospitable areas will all begin to be covered.”

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Barring a few ground stations that are yet to be set up, Mittal said most of the “critical” earth-based infrastructure for its network is now operational.

Founded in 2012, OneWeb seeks to beam high-speed Internet to Earth from a network of low-Earth orbit satellites at an altitude of about 750 miles.

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OneWeb plans to launch a total of 648 satellites, of which 588 are required for global coverage. The rest will serve as spares that can step in in case some of the other satellites on the network go down.

OneWeb competes with a number of companies including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Amazon and Inmarsat.

In July last year, it had agreed to a deal for a tie-up with French satellite company Eutelsat. Management expects to finalize the merger by summer.

Following completion of the transaction, OneWeb plans to pursue a secondary listing on the London Stock Exchange.

The firm is up against some fierce competition. Starlink, the space internet unit of Musk’s SpaceX, has launched thousands of satellites to bring network connectivity to places with patchy internet.

Mittal said OneWeb has “some catching up to do”, but the firm is seeing “strong” demand from its target markets, which include North America, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, Latin America and Africa Are included.

According to Mittal, the loss-making company is currently generating millions of dollars in revenue every month. It hopes to one day attract hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Unlike Starlink, which sells broadband packages to consumers, OneWeb says it’s targeting enterprise customers.

It has signed deals with major telecom companies including Australia’s Telstra and France’s Orange. As of the end of February, OneWeb had dozens of customers in 15 countries.

OneWeb was saved from bankruptcy in a $1 billion financing package backed by the UK government and Indian telecommunications conglomerate Bharti Global.

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Faced with a series of setbacks, including an inability to launch satellites from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, OneWeb continues to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from previous backers SoftBank to fuel its costly ambition of delivery from space.

Mittal said on Monday, “The promise I made to the British government has been fulfilled.”

The government holds 20% stake in OneWeb and is its second largest shareholder.

Following the transaction with Eutelsat, the government will retain some control through a “special share” that gives it access to the location of future OneWeb launches and the firm’s national security safeguards.

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