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OneWeb expands to the Canadian Arctic as partner takes aim at big telcos

Joe Hickey Rock Networks.jpg

Satellite telco OneWeb is continuing its foray into the Arctic, this time with a Canadian company, Rock Networks.

Its agreement with Rock follows days after UK-based OneWeb agreed to buy a US military satellite company and one of its shareholders, Hughes Network Systems, agreed to provide satellite-based communications in the Arctic for the US Air Force.

Joe Hickey (pictured), CEO and president of Rock Networks, said: “Low latency connectivity is the future and it is a valuable addition to our broader communications portfolio. It will enable a range of critical applications to support our customers.”

The deal will mark a significant departure for Rock Networks, which focuses on corporate and government customers in the public safety, energy, transport, construction and manufacturing sectors. Many of its systems appear to be based on Motorola two-way radios. It even offers Air Miles on purchases of Motorola equipment.

However the company has been vocal in its criticism of the main Canadian telcos and their investment in rural broadband. “Big telcos’ interest in rural broadband is very conditional and highly self-serving,” Rock said on its website only a week ago, when the OneWeb deal was likely in negotiation.

“Incumbent telcos cannot be trusted to connect and serve rural Canadians. These companies aren’t evil, but they are beholden to shareholders, and it is never in the shareholders’ best interest to increase costs or invite competition in rural markets.”

Seen in the light of the OneWeb deal, those comments might hint that Rock is planning to use low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to offer broadband to people in rural Canada.

The Rock deal, like the earlier US agreements, also has a military focus. OneWeb said the partnership will “provide innovative and reliable communications for Canada’s Arctic region for Canadian armed forces and other government of Canada departments and agencies. Specifically, broadband low latency satellite communications will be available for those operating across Canada and, most notably, the high Arctic.”

Dylan Browne, head of government services at OneWeb, said: “OneWeb’s polar satellite services will provide vital connectivity for Canada’s national defence and security plus a secure bridge home for defence and diplomatic missions abroad.”

OneWeb — whose next satellite launch is planned for 27 May — will have enough in polar orbit to service everywhere north of the fiftieth parallel by later this year. Most of populated Canada is south of 50° north, so Rock’s focus will be on the country’s colder regions.

OneWeb yesterday gave a date for the launch of the service from 50° north to the North Pole: November, a month later than executive chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal told Capacity in an interview earlier this year.

The satellite company said: “With OneWeb service starting across all Canadian provinces and territories in November, Rock Networks is expected to spend the next seven months training staff and onboarding customer support tools to include interconnecting to OneWeb’s PoPs [points of presence] in Calgary and Toronto.”

OneWeb, whose shareholders are the UK government, Mittal’s company Bharti Global, Eutelsat, SoftBank and Hughes, said services would start this year in Alaska, northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic seas and Canada. “OneWeb then intends to make global service available in 2022,” the company added.

Browne said that, following the Canadian agreement, “OneWeb and Rock Networks will participate in a number of forthcoming defence events and exercises to showcase airborne and maritime surveillance, resupply, support patrols and security exercises.”

 

 

 

 

 

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