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OneWeb UK Confirms BT Talks – Possible Rural Broadband Fix

Tuesday, Feb 2nd, 2021 (2:48 pm) - Score 4,248
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Satellite broadband operator OneWeb, which is partly owned by the UK government and aims to build a mega constellation of “high-speed” broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), has confirmed that they’re in early-stage talks with BT about the use of their network to help connect remote rural areas.

At present OneWeb has launched a total of 110 LEOs into space and the initial plan is to build a constellation of 648 satellites, which is enough for a reasonable level of global coverage by around the end of 2022. After that they have future approval for a total of 2,000 satellites and 1,280 of those will be a second-generation model that sits in a higher Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of 8,500km, but that would require more investment.

NOTE: Traditional GEO satellites have good coverage, but they can suffer from peak-time network congestion and horrifically slow latency times.

In theory the new network could deliver ultrafast broadband speeds (100Mbps+) and latency times of under 40ms (example), although we still have no idea what sort of service will actually be made available to the domestic connectivity market and how much it might cost. Nevertheless, if recent tests by the rival Starlink (SpaceX) platform are anything to go by, OneWeb could offer a fix for poor broadband speeds in rural areas.

All of this has recently become particularly relevant given the on-going concerns around the 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO), which was originally touted as a fix to help connect some of the remotest areas. However, there are tens of thousands of premises in the final 1% of the UK where even this becomes far too expensive (here), with some install quotes even reaching beyond £1m+.

As such the Telegraph‘s (paywall) new article, which confirms that OneWeb are in early-stage talks with BT about the potential use of their constellation, is particularly relevant as the technology should be good enough to meet Ofcom’s technical criteria (e.g. latency times of under 200ms) for their USO.

A OneWeb Spokesperson added:

“We’re looking at being able to support telecom companies around the world.”

In our view there are three potential approaches that BT could take with this, if they were to proceed.

Possible BT OneWeb Broadband Solutions

Satellite capacity for a 5G mobile or fixed wireless network.

— Satellite capacity to support a local fibre or hybrid fibre network.

— Direct to customer broadband solution (dish on house etc.).

At the time of writing, we haven’t seen any sign of a direct to consumer (Starlink style) broadband solution, although OneWeb has previously talked about serving “communities” (i.e. possibly a reference to using satellite capacity for a community distribution model, such as to feed a local fixed line or wireless network).

Lest we forget that BT has already helped to develop satellite technologies for use alongside 5G networks (here), which might plausibly be used to kill two birds with one stone (mobile and broadband connectivity) in remote rural areas. We suspect that the Government, which has already invested £400m ($500m) into OneWeb, would be keen to support some related trials. Time will tell.

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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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21 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Bob says:

    Does anybody honestly see this competing or beating Space X?

    1. Avatar photo JamesP says:

      Probably not, but if it helps drive prices lower by increasing competition then it’s good news in my book. Personally speaking I would find it hard to stomach paying £80+ for ‘just’ an ultrafast (ie, 100-200Mbps) connection even though I’m sat at sub-superfast paying £25pm.

    2. Avatar photo Name says:

      No, I don’t think they want to compete with SpaceX. Moreover I don’t think they have a plan what to do next with it.

    3. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      Not a prayer, I see it as a government vanity project much like HS2, a way to give multi-million pound contract/jobs to friends in high places, nothing more.

    4. Avatar photo Fastman says:

      buggerlugz – HS2 is not a vanity product it will create a massive piece of critical infratrcuture that will relases massive rail capacity across large part of UK and remove significant vehicles from M1 / M6 corridor by 2026

    5. Avatar photo JP says:

      I hope so, UK needs something to put its name on, or we can keep sending money overseas otherwise.

  2. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    OneWeb is this millenia’s equivalent of Cable and Wireless, attempting to gain control of telecoms on a world scale (with an government ability to snoop, which happened with the C&W cables in WW1/pre WW2 era since many of their cables had a UK landfall).

    1. Avatar photo Winston Smith says:

      It’s doubtful as their potential market is limited to shipping, aircraft and remote terrestrial.

      Most of the world’s traffic will still be carried by fixed line or terrestrial radio.

  3. Avatar photo Walter says:

    Why are there always anti-oneweb comments? Americans trolling us?
    Who cares if starlink is “better” or not. Why would anyone prefer there be no competition? don’t get it .

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      I fail to see any competition in UK broadband, so arguing its a good thing doesn’t really ring true.

    2. Avatar photo Name says:

      Yeah Walter it is a conspiracy against you and One Web. Nobody said Starlink is better, there is just no place for One Web to be profitable.

    3. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      @Buggerlugz: So, Virgin covering about 50% of the UK doesn’t count as competition? Unbundled LLU exchanges providing multiple ADSL providers doesn’t count? Separate service providers with their own backhaul networks using Openreach FTTC and FTTP tails doesn’t count? Areas covered by Cityfibre, Gigaclear and other altnets don’t count? Fixed 4G/5G services don’t count?

    4. Avatar photo Darren Reid says:

      I would be happy if a private enterprise took it on.

      The only people who did are the government. Which gives me concerns this will never be profitable and a drain on public finances.

    5. Avatar photo JP says:

      @Buggerlugz – How is there no competition in UK broadband market, we got several independent network developers, one of which is now starting to take wholesale business from Openreach (albeit slowly)

      If there was no competition in the UK there would be no such thing as broadband for £25… triple that figure and you’ll have 50mb in some countries. (and it wouldn’t be asymmetrical either)

  4. Avatar photo Ember says:

    I’m just worried that the nights sky will be ruined further

  5. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    No, I don’t find virgin offer anything competitive at all and neither do BT where I live. Best I can make do with for is rubbish 4g.

  6. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    As more of these systems are deployed it will be more difficult for governments to control which content their citizens are allowed to access.

  7. Avatar photo Sigh... says:

    Every time there’s an article about our OneWeb the comment section is full of anti British moaners.

    I suspect that they aren’t even British, because if they truly were, they’d back our OneWeb 100% out of patriotism alone.

    It’s like they want America to be number one and think that we can’t!

    We’ll they’ve seen nothing yet, we’ve just got to believe!

  8. Avatar photo NeilM says:

    For those with crappy internet, then any solutions which offer choice is a good thing. It just needs enough people on each service to keep them viable.

    1. Avatar photo JP says:

      I do think LEOS Broadband could be pretty successful depending on whether or not it rolls out quick enough….. and after all BT is showing interest so there must be something to it.

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