OneWeb Launches Another 34 Broadband Satellites

London-based start-up OneWeb has this week launched another 34 satellites into orbit as it races SpaceX to build the world’s first high-speed, satellite-based broadband network.

The OneWeb satellites launched from Kazakhstan on Thursday atop a Russian-made Soyuz rocket, CNN Business reported.

Both SpaceX and OneWeb are developing their plans for satellite coverage. Last August OneWeb denied Russia had refused to allow it to deploy its satellite-based broadband service in that country. It said that it had submitted, but then withdrawn an application, to use radio frequencies in Russia.

OneWeb network

OneWeb, founded by US telecoms entrepreneur Greg Wyler and based in West London, plans to have its network in place by 2021.

OneWeb launched the first six broadband satellites in February 2019 and it intends to build an initial network of 650 satellites around the world operating at 1,200km above the earth.

It was helped in this expensive effort in March 2019, when OneWeb said it had raised a total of $3.4 billion (£2.63bn) in private funding.

And now this week it has added to the six satellites already in orbit by delivering another 34 units.

Thursday’s launch is expected to be the first of 10 such launches that OneWeb will execute this year, the company’s CEO, Adrian Steckel, told CNN Business.

Each of the launches will carry at least 34 satellites, according to the company.

Steckel reportedly said the firm’s first six satellites had performed better than expected, and demonstrated speeds that could rival 5G internet. According to CNN Business, the firm has spent the past 11 months figuring out how to mass produce its satellites at its facility in Florida.

Steckel reportedly said OneWeb and its manufacturing partner, Airbus, had to iron out issues in their production system and supply chain. But now that those issues are resolved, he estimates satellites will be rolling off assembly lines smoothly for the remainder of the year, and a second batch of more than 30 satellites will be ready for flight as soon as March.

Space rivalry

Meanwhile rival SpaceX is building its own constellation of internet satellites, which already includes more than 200 devices, and is expected to grow to more than 1,500 over the next 11 months.

Unlike SpaceX which will offer broadband satellites services directly to consumers, OneWeb intends (once it opens for business in 2021) to sell services to governments and corporate customers that provide internet service to airplanes, ships and boats.

Eventually, the company will sell bandwidth to consumer internet providers, said Steckel.

SpaceX meanwhile aiming to start offering its broadband service as soon as mid-2020.

The other companies racing to construct satellite-based broadband networks include Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which intends to deploy a 3,200-satellite network known as Project Kuiper.

Other players include Kepler, LeoSat and Telesat Canada.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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