After delays, OneWeb launches its first six low-speed broadband satellites


Illustration of a OneWeb satellite in the space.
Enlarge / Illustration of a OneWeb satellite.


OneWeb yesterday launched the first six low Earth orbit satellites for its global broadband network, which is expected to provide broadband access to the world by 2021. These satellites are test units that OneWeb will evaluate over the next one year. semester to make sure they run smoothly.

"If we work with six out of six people, it will be amazing," said OneWeb founder Greg Wyler, according to a Bloomberg article.

The satellites were "aboard a Soyuz launcher coming from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana," the company said in a statement. The satellites left the rocket in two groups and "[s]The ignition acquisition has been confirmed for all six satellites, "said the company.

The launch yesterday marks "the transition from a successful concept validation to the commercialization of OneWeb," the company said. "With the launch of more than 30 satellites per rocket, OneWeb's monthly launch program will extend its constellation to more than 650 satellites to enable customer demonstrations by 2020 and a comprehensive global commercial coverage by 2021." OneWeb said it could eventually launch 1,980 satellites.

However, there is reason to be skeptical about OneWeb's schedule. OneWeb had initially pledged a service across Alaska in 2019, but now says it will only offer customer demos starting in 2020.

"OneWeb is about a year behind and has witnessed SpaceX's launch of Elon Musk's pair of test satellites for a rival space Internet service," Bloomberg wrote. "The startup was also under pressure for a successful launch before the end of November, when its right to a valuable spectrum would have expired"

Low orbits to allow latency similar to that of a cable

Both SpaceX and OneWeb launch satellites in much lower orbits than traditional satellite broadband networks, potentially allowing cable-like latency from about 25 ms to 30 ms.

In October 2017, Wyler told a US Senate committee that OneWeb would make "low latency broadband available to all citizens of Alaska" in 2019. Clearly, this will not happen given the latest forecasts from OneWeb.

Wyler also said in October 2017 that OneWeb would offer "peak speeds of 500 Mbps" at the first iteration of its network and speeds of 2.5 Gbps in a "second constellation, scheduled for 2021". But now, the first version is scheduled for worldwide coverage in 2021 – if OneWeb sticks to its latest public timeline.

OneWeb says that its satellites will have operational orbits of about 1,200 km and that each satellite will weigh less than 150 kg.

OneWeb did not say how much it would cost for broadband but it intends to "provide affordable access to 4 billion unconnected people around the world" and "provide low-speed broadband latency and broadband even in the most remote places on the planet. "

OneWeb raised more than $ 2 billion in financing from Virgin, SoftBank, Qualcomm, Airbus and others. OneWeb has stated that its business model will be to "provide a service indirectly through reseller partners or directly to the end customer, in the case of airlines or ship operators, for example".

The United States is authorized to deploy up to 11,943 broadband satellites. The FCC rules require the launch of 50% of satellites within six years of authorization and within nine years, unless waived. Musk fired several satellite project managers in mid-2018 to meet deadlines and provide Internet service by 2020.

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