20 December 2016
| Alan Burkitt-Gray
Satellite company OneWeb has raised $1.2 billion in funding to start production of the first of 720 satellites designed to provide global internet access.
SoftBank is the main new backer of the project, providing $1
billion of the extra funding.
OneWeb plans to launch its first 10 production satellites "in
early 2018", said founder and chairman Greg Wyler, welcoming
the new investment. "Six months later we will begin our full
launch campaign and start providing low latency broadband
access as early as 2019."
The company is building the satellites over four years in a new
factory in Florida, which will be designed to complete 15 a
week. The 125kg satellites will orbit only 1200km above the
earth’s surface, reducing latency to a few
OneWeb said that it will have capacity of more than 10Tbps, and
user terminals will contain embedded LTE, 3G, 2G and Wifi. The
company has given no details yet of the wholesale arrangements
it will have, except that it says "the OneWeb system will
extend the networks of mobile operators and internet service
providers to serve new coverage areas at a lower cost, bringing
voice and data access to consumers, businesses, schools,
healthcare institutions and other end users".
Wyler – who was earlier a founder of rival operator
O3b Networks – said: "We will soon provide more
details of our roadmap, which includes greater than 100×
capacity growth from our first generation system, including
gigabit per second speeds, lower latencies, and affordable
self-installed terminals. These new capabilities will support
both our 2022 goal of connecting every unconnected school and
our 2027 goal of bridging the digital divide."
Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank, said: "SoftBank
has a long history of investing in disruptive, foundational
technologies that promise to help us realise the future sooner.
OneWeb is a tremendously exciting company poised to transform
internet access around the world from their manufacturing
facility in Florida."
Wyler said: "While the cities and suburbs of developed
countries have broadband access, over 50% of the world,
including rural America, Europe and Asia, remain without
reliable high-speed connectivity."
It is the first time SoftBank – which owns Sprint in the US as well as
fixed and mobile operations in Japan – has invested in
the project. OneWeb was founded with investment from Qualcomm, Airbus, Bharti
Enterprises, Hughes Network Systems – a subsidiary of
EchoStar – plus Intelsat, Coca-Cola, Virgin and
Totalplay, owned by Mexico’s Grupo Salinas.
Wyler’s statement last night implies that Qualcomm
and Grupo Salinas are alongside SoftBank in providing the new
funding, which is expected to be available in the first quarter
of 2017. He said: "We want to thank Softbank, Qualcomm, Grupo
Salinas and our tireless, hyper-dedicated, mission driven team
for helping to make this vision a reality."
He said that once the satellites are launched "boundless low
latency broadband access will be available for homes, connected
cars, trains, planes and cellular backhaul applications."
Hughes Network Systems