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Troubled OneWeb Hope to Expand LEO Broadband Constellation

Wednesday, May 27th, 2020 (10:35 am) - Score 1,978
oneweb_leo_satellite_factory

British-registered space company OneWeb has today shunned its on-going bankruptcy woes by submitting a modification request to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which would enable them to to increase the number of LEO broadband satellites in their constellation up to 48,000!

The idea of learning to walk before you can run appears to be lost on this particular company, which until late March (here) was still in the process of building a large constellation of 648 compact Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites in order to achieve full global coverage by the end of 2021. So far 74 have already launched.

The low altitude of such spacecraft would enable them to deliver significantly lower latency, while “fibre-line” broadband ISP speeds were anticipated for end-users in even remote parts of the world (an early test from last year hit speeds of 400Mbps and an average latency of 32ms).

Unfortunately OneWeb, which has already had c.$3bn of investment from SoftBank, is the kind of high risk Satellite company that has to spend vast amounts of money before being able to make any income (most are like that but LEO constellations on this scale are an entirely new field).

Suffice to say that money worries are a fact of life for OneWeb and their on-going problems soon combined with the arrival of COVID-19 to create a perfect storm, which forced them to file for voluntary relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the USA. Since then they’ve been desperately hunting for a buyer, with Amazon known to have shown an interest but nothing concrete.. yet.

Nevertheless the company has today submitted a modification request to the U.S. FCC to increase the number of satellites in its constellation up to 48,000 satellites. “This larger OneWeb constellation will allow for greater flexibility to meet soaring global connectivity demands,” said the company that at present is running on little more than fumes.

Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, said:

“We have always believed that LEO satellites must be part of converged broadband network strategies to enable forward-thinking governments and businesses to deliver much-needed reliable connectivity, create more pathways to 5G and connect to the IoT future everywhere on earth. This significant increase in the size of the OneWeb constellation enables long-term flexibility and ensures we will be ready for the demand, future growth, and technology changes to come.”

The company also included a small mentioned of their Bankruptcy status, which was relegated to little more than a foot note in their press release despite its overwhelming significance to all of this. The bad, if entirely unsurprising, news is that so far they haven’t found a buyer but are continuing the “restructuring and sale process and [have] received considerable interest from parties worldwide.” We hope they can turn that interest into something a little more solid, with money behind it. Not so easy in this climate.

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar John Holmes says:

    All they surely had to do was to pick a populated country with significant issues of broadband speeds in remote areas and launch enough satellites to provide high speed broadband just for this country. This would provide cash flow and a showroom to investors.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      They were in the process of doing just that, but even LEOs can take the best part of 6-12 months post-launch before they can go commercially live for customers. OneWeb only just began launching final satellites recently.

    2. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      To cover any one spot on the earth you need quite a lot of LEO satellites as they only remain in view for minutes at a time (if you’ve seen the starlink satellites passing over you’ll see how fast they go from one horizon to another).

  2. Avatar sg says:

    Have they now been ‘saved’ by the UK tax payers and their masters?

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