Iridium to work with OneWeb on bundled satellite services

Matt Desch Iridium Next launch.jpg

Satellite company Iridium, which went into service with its new fleet earlier this year, is to work on combined services with rival operator OneWeb.

The two have entered into a memorandum of understanding to bundle and market their services together.

Details so far are scarce, but Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium, said: “Our services are unique and complementary, and we know that customers are looking for the capabilities of both our low-Earth-orbiting networks.”

Iridium relaunched itself after it completed a $3 billion programme in February to replace its aged fleet of 66 operational satellites with more powerful units. Iridium is launching access to customers of Amazon Web Services (AWS) this month. 

OneWeb, backed by SoftBank with other companies such as Airbus, Airtel, Intelsat and Virgin, has six satellites in orbit but plans at least 650 by the time it goes into full commercial service in 2021.

Both fleets are in low Earth orbit – around 700-800km above the surface, meaning latency is just a few milliseconds – but use different frequency bands and have different bandwidth abilities. Iridium’s services are limited to around 1.4Mbps, but OneWeb is promising more.

Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, said: “We believe our new offering can bring many benefits for our distribution partners. By combining the strengths of our services, we can ensure our partners are able to deliver the most innovative, seamless services to their subscribers across many markets, and in all the places that don’t yet have access to the internet.”

The memorandum of understanding, signed this week at an Iridium customer conference, creates opportunities for companies that manufacture both OneWeb and Iridium terminals, they said.

Desch said: “It’s an exciting time for the industry, and we see great potential for this offering.”

OneWeb said its network will deliver very high-speed broadband connectivity that transfers large amounts of data. It is ideal for applications including inflight Wifi, government and maritime networks that require global reach, high speed and low latency.

Iridium said its cross-linked satellite constellation brings seamless truly global connectivity with highly weather resilient user terminals, making it suited to provide safety services for ships, aircraft, vehicles and deployed personnel, and can be a regulation-required capability.

OneWeb said its first six satellites have demonstrated broadband speeds of 400Mbps and an average latency of 32ms. OneWeb will begin launches of more than 30 satellites a month starting in December – satellites made at a purpose-built factory in Florida. The company has already planned to start a satellite broadband service covering the US state of Alaska – a service it describes as “fibre-like”.