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OneWeb Future Uncertain as 34 LEO Broadband Satellites Lofted

Monday, Mar 23rd, 2020 (8:30 am) - Score 1,994
oneweb rocket launch arianespace soyuz

British space firm OneWeb successfully launched 34 new compact Low Earth Orbit (LEO) ultrafast broadband satellites into orbit on the back of a ‘Soyuz-2-1b Fregat-M’ rocket on Saturday (active total of 74), but despite this progress the company has been sacking staff and is reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy protection.

As a quick recap. OneWeb intends to build an initial mega-constellation of 648 satellites in order to achieve full global coverage by the end of 2021 (adding more beyond this – as demand requires), with launches taking place at a rate of about 34 per month. The low altitude of these LEO platforms offers significantly lower latency, while “fibre-line” broadband speeds are expected for end-users (last year’s test hit speeds of 400Mbps and 32ms of average latency).

NOTE: Each LEO weighs roughly 150kg+ and are only waist high (with solar panels folded-in) – tiny when compared with double decker bus sized GSO satellites. The platforms use Ka band (20-30GHz) and Ku band (11-14GHz) spectrum.

The main launch programme kicked off at the start of this year and, including the earlier test satellites, OneWeb have now managed to put a total of 74 LEOs into orbit around the planet. The company has also installed ground stations globally, secured the necessary radio spectrum for communications and has a range of compact user terminals in development.

All of these satellites are designed with a short lifespan and after that they will de-orbit (either automatically or, if that fails, then gravity will pull them down within 1-5 years). The reason for this is to help tackle fears about too much “space junk” around the Earth (potentially blocking access to space if a chain reaction of collisions were to occur), but astronomers also complain that LEOs make conducting observation science more difficult.

Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, said:

“We are very proud of the progress we have made so far in 2020 and I would like to show the utmost gratitude for the time, effort, and expertise of the OneWeb company, our partners and our people as we come together and support one another.

In these unprecedented times following the global outbreak of COVID-19, people around the world find themselves trying to continue their lives and work online. We see the need for OneWeb, greater now more than ever before. High-quality connectivity is the lifeline to enabling people to work, continue their education, stay up to date on important healthcare information and stay meaningfully connected to one another.

The crisis has demonstrated the imperative need for connectivity everywhere and has exposed urgent shortcomings in many organizations’ connectivity capabilities. Our satellite network is poised to fill in many of these critical gaps in the global communications infrastructure.”

Naturally a company like this will suck up a massive amount of money during the execution phase of its system deployment (they’ve had about $3bn from SoftBank alone), which is something that OneWeb have been grappling with since before COVID-19 (Coronavirus) grew to become a global issue.

As a result of the above, and the worsening COVID-19 situation, OneWeb has separately confirmed that they’ve needed to “dynamically adjust our workforce” (translation – they reportedly sacked about 10% of it). On top of this they’ve admitted that “unfortunately, we think it is inevitable that there will be delays to our launch schedule and satellite manufacturing due to increasing travel restrictions and the disruption of supply chains.”

Last week also saw Bloomberg report that the company is now considering filing for bankruptcy protection as a way of dealing with the current pressure on its funding. Suffice to say that OneWeb will have a very tricky road ahead and all while being put under pressure from rival SpaceX, which is growing their rival constellation at a faster pace (others like Amazon and Facebook also plan to enter the LEO space).

Assuming OneWeb makes it through the year then the first to benefit from their new network will be in the aviation and maritime sectors, which is likely to be followed by ISPs offering broadband services to rural and remote areas. We’ll reserve judgement on that until we see what kinds of packages are being offered to consumers.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
2 Responses
  1. Avatar photo tisashame says:

    Well that escalated quickly. Then again, I did wonder how they were paying for it all. Another common British story. Do something amazing, then go bust. What a shame, now it will all be left to the likes of Elon. Will COVID wipe out all British businesses in the end ? Why isn’t the government stepping in to help.

  2. Avatar photo Marty says:

    More special debris.

Comments are closed

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