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OneWeb UK to Deliver In-Flight Broadband via LEO Satellites

Saturday, March 20th, 2021 (7:52 am) - Score 3,144
OneWeb_LEO_Broadband_Satellite_Over_Earth

OneWeb, which is partly owned by the UK Government and aims to deploy a global network of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for ultrafast low-latency broadband provision (here), has signed a new agreement to deliver fast in-flight WiFi on aircraft with SatixFy, a British manufacturer of electronic components.

At present OneWeb has lofted 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: Each LEO satellite weighs 150kg+ and is only waist high (with solar panels folded-in) – tiny when compared with double-decker bus sized GSO/GEO satellites. The platforms use Ka band (20-30GHz), Ku band (11-14GHz) and also have permission to use V-Band spectrum (37.5 – 43.5GHz, 47.2 – 50.2 GHz, and 50.4 – 51.4GHz).

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 (here and here).

However, the company also has plans to serve other sectors, and has previously spoken of their desire to aid government, business and maritime connectivity. One other area that OneWeb could target is the aviation market, where at present many airlines are still hobbled by restrictive and often expensive in-flight connectivity to big GSO/GEO satellites.

The new deal with SatixFry plays into that by starting the process of developing new in-flight connectivity terminals for OneWeb’s LEO network, as well as on geostationary satellite networks. The new terminals will “use electronically steered multi-beam antenna technologies to provide multi-beam capability and operate simultaneously via many different satellites” (i.e. aggregating capacity from multiple satellites).

Satixfy is said to have formed a joint venture called JetTalk with Singapore Technology Engineering Ltd to commercialise the terminal for commercial aviation markets.

Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency, says:

“The past year has shown that connectivity has never been more important to our daily lives, and it is exciting to see SatixFy and OneWeb working together to provide commercial passenger planes with broadband internet for the first time.

The new aero terminal will make use of chips developed with UK Space Agency backing, which demonstrates how supporting our most innovative companies leads to results that make a real difference for people all over the world.”

OneWeb’s next launch is currently planned for Thursday 25th March next week, which will see 36 new LEO satellites being sent into orbit abroad the large Soyuz-2 rocket from Arianespace in Russia.

We should add that LEOs like this 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).

However, many astronomers also complain that LEOs make conducting observation science more difficult, which is something that OneWeb itself has yet to fully address. SpaceX has been more responsive on this matter, but their constellation will also be much larger and so remains a key concern for astronomers.

Meanwhile, none of the new LEO constellations have yet to prove their long-term financial viability, although they’re still a bit too new for that.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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27 Responses
  1. Rob says:

    The potential military utility of such systems is extremely exciting.

  2. Randy says:

    Remember all the anti-tories:

    >hur dur its the wrong kind of satellite.
    >they’ll all fail and oneweb will go bankrupt.

    Funny how the lefty weftys will spout any old incorrect rubbish to try to prove their point but lack facts.

    1. UK taxpayer says:

      maybe lets wait for it to be profitable first

    2. Randy says:

      Is starlink profitable? Are any of the altnets building FTTP networks profitable?
      Nope. But tell me more about how oneweb bad and the gummymint screwed up

    3. "I'm victim!" says:

      The nasty lefty weftys said bad things about my precious little party and the dear leader’s satellites! I’m a victim! Waaaahhhh!

    4. Non-partisan OneWeb skeptic says:

      @Randy:

      Save your silly footballised party political crowing until OneWeb has at a minimum:

      1. Completed its planned 648 satellite constellation without further taxpayer bailouts / “investment”.
      2. The constellation provides a GNSS services which is functionally equivalent to that provided by other existing GNSS satellite systems (BeiDou, Galileo, GLONASS and GPS).
      3. Generates revenue from its planned commercial broadband services.
      4. Has returned at a minimum the $500 million USD taxpayer “investment” to the exchequer.
      5. Doesn’t go bankrupt AGAIN prior to completing steps 1 through 4.

      Until then your crowing is premature and OneWeb skeptics (including myself) from across the political spectrum, will remain unconvinced of the orbital white elephant.

    5. UK taxpayer says:

      Dear Randy,
      It is not about Starlink now.

    6. Tim says:

      @Non-partisan OneWeb skeptic
      Oneweb isn’t going to provide GNSS as it isn’t suitable for that they’re communication sats and building yet another GNSS constellation is what would be a waste of money anyway. Putting money into getting remote areas of the country which currently experience close to dial up speeds a better connection is a much more beneficial use of tax payers money then something everyone already has access to.

    7. Randy says:

      I don’t vote for any political party, because I don’t like any of them.

      However, most of the anti-oneweb people seem to have a problem with the present government to boot. Like waaah they wasted money on HS2, they bought the “wrong” satellites (big hint: they didn’t) and that it’s somehow impossible for them to add chip scale atomic clocks to their satellites. But y’know tories bad and all. So they’re not “my party” and I couldn’t care less about the present government, but go ahead and defend the lefties that will say anything to damage the party in power because they don’t like them.

      One web IS going to provide GNSS, and IS capable of it, but you know one lefty professor at one uni said it won’t despite Stanford uni publishing a paper about how Oneweb can provide GNSS equal to or even slightly better than GPS/Galileo/Beidu.

      But when one has confirmation bias and only searches for articles to support them (that all link back to that one single professor) we get comments like in this thread.

      Bet none of you will come back and say you were wrong when they do.

      As for profits, again, Starlink : no profit. Altnets: no profit. But OneWeb … hur dur come back to us when they make a profit.

    8. UK taxpayer says:

      Randy.. don’t compromise yourself

    9. Randy says:

      Great comment UK taxpayer. Because I don’t believe in the lefty propaganda against oneweb i’m dominic cummings in disguise. I could rant all day about the failings of the tories, as I could about the last Labour (WMDs) government… but apparently I’m not allowed to point out that theres bias behind most of the anti onweb comments.

      http://web.stanford.edu/group/scpnt/pnt/PNT16/2016_Presentation_Files/S11-Reid.pdf

      Read it and weep.

      Isn’t the wrong satellite type. Is capable of GNSS. Starlink will do the same, and not one of you will come back and say you were wrong about it.

      Excuse me while I go polish boris’ boots for pointing out that all the anti-tory/anti-oneweb people are talking out of their backsides as usual.

    10. Goldmember says:

      While I don’t share Randy’s obvious obsession with oneweb, I do feel some balance might be necessary.

      Oneweb has been funded by both the UK and Indian government. I understand this is a UK website and as a Netherlander, I don’t see why you Brits have a problem with funding oneweb personally. Nobody in India is complaining about it, despite the obvious need for fixing more local problems. But I can also understand the Brits not wanting to spend pennies on things too, we Dutch also consider ourselves pretty frugal.

      It does seem like Randy is on some sort of mission to me, maybe she is very patriotic (something I think some of you Brits are against btw, we Dutch don’t mind flying our flags but apparently it’s a problem for you) but it also seems like many of you are also against the UK spending money on projects that make the EU look like it’s lagging behind. Satellite broadband in the EU is a total joke. Only Intelsat offers a somewhat comparable product and it’s more expensive, and a lot slower. Although I understand oneweb hasn’t offered any actual product just yet but will in November of dit year.

      As for people having access to it already, well, the EU has cut you British out of Galileo. You might have access to the civilian signal, but you don’t have priority access to it, nor the military signal. That is reserved only for the EU but I also feel bad that this has happened since you funded it, put your people to work with it and if I understand correctly put many experts into creating it.

      I personally feel that if oneweb can offer you broadband in your hard to reach places, and also give you global navigation then you have an advantage over the EU.

      Why the politics though. You British are so divided over this. I don’t see that one side is better than the other. One side waves your flag and says you are the best people on the planet, and one side complains about everything your government does. If my government had a LEO broadband system like yours does I would be extremely happy. I have to live with only KPN (about the same as your Virgin Media) and let me tell you, it sucks. We don’t all have the glassfiber people think we do here in NL.

      You all need to calm down. Oneweb is not a waste of money, it is not a white elephant, but equally it doesn’t have the union jack flying in space with Borises two tumbs up on it. I see both sides acting pretty childish here. If my country had oneweb, I would be happy about it. If it could provide the same GPS as what Galileo that the EU cut you out from too then that’s a bonus. It does seem like it can, but for some reason some of you can’t accept that.

      I say, go oneweb. I would rather buy that than starlink.

  3. Leosedf says:

    Actually one website is a joke and they don’t have 110 Sat’s in orbit.

    1. Tim says:

      They ain’t a joke and they’ve launched 110 Sat’s in total including the 6 tests with another 36 due up on Thursday.

  4. Ron P says:

    @Tim

    ‘Building yet another’ satellite broadband ‘constellation’ is also a ‘waste of money anyway’… why should the taxpayer foot the bill for something solely commercial enterprises are building with their own funds?

    If OneWeb isn’t going to provide a GNSS system, then perhaps Boris and co did buy “the wrong satellites” after all… perhaps you should let Randy know before that she(?) has another “lefty weftys” rant?

    1. Randy says:

      Stanford Uni published a paper on how OneWeb can provide GNSS using chip scale atomic clocks. Galileo has had literally weeks of downtime, has lost 4 of it’s ground stations and is a failure but nobody screams about the money the UK spent on it … why is that?

      None of the detractors of oneweb know a single thing about it. They prefer instead to read articles that link to one lefty professor that said dur it’s the wrong satellite. BTW starlink is proposing to use their satellites for GNSS too. Don’t see many of you complaining about that.

      Yes lets only have Starlink, only the Americans can provide sat broadband for people. Muh white elephant etc. The left are obsessed with rubbishing everything the present government does. I don’t see OneWeb as a waste of money at all, I’d rather see some competition to Starlink. From what I’ve read Oneweb will be faster than Starlink too and won’t have only USA based ground stations or prefer the US over the rest of the world.

      But yeah Boris bad, tories bad, oneweb bad.

      For the record (not that you or anyone else cares anyway) I’m not a Boris fan, nor a tory fan, nor a labour fan, nor a lib dem fan. I did consider once voting for the greens but then not voting at all has the same effect.

      OneWeb will provide GNSS, is capable of it. I think Standford uni knows a little better than you do.

      All the haters are hating because of

      a) One article by one academic who was out of his depth
      b) hatred for the evil tories.

    2. BjoernD says:

      It is insane to integrate expensive atomic clocks into satellites with a lifespan of a few years. For a GNNS system, you need at least four times as many satellites as you need for basic internet coverage.

      Then you have to convince the manufacturers to build the technology into the smartphone. The UK market is too small to force the manufacturers.

    3. JP says:

      Where’s BT’s LEO Sats then???

      Government obviously saw this as a new communications method for our military and security, though that doesn’t seem to be something people are interested in these days and more worried about offending each other.

    4. Bob2002 says:

      @BjoernD

      >It is insane to integrate expensive atomic clocks into satellites with a lifespan of a few years.

      Each OneWeb satellite costs about $1,000,000 to manufacture, a chip scale atomic clock(like the one in the Stanford presentation) costs roughly $1000(?). That’s peanuts compared to the cost of the satellite or the atomic clocks used in typical satellite navigation.

  5. Not so Randy Randy says:

    Randy man…….. chill.

    1. Randy says:

      Could say the same about the anti-oneweb crew here.

      British government (along with the Indian government) put funding into oneweb. Comments on here…. reee white elephant, tell me when it makes a profit, can’t do GNSS, tories bad. Ok.
      Maybe they are Tesla drivers as well as anti-tory / anti-oneweb. I’d rather the gov put some money into broadband instead of giving northern monkies high speed rail but no, I must be dom cummings in disguise because I don’t buy the propaganda.

      Oh but muh taxpayer money.

      You know what annoys me more? a 7% increase to the police & crime comissioner when the cops can’t be arsed to come investigate when my motorbike gets stolen, or the people that break into houses. But we’ve apparently got money to investigate naughty tweets and arrest ladies protesting.

      Every single oneweb article attracts brown beer drinking beardy weardy lefties that blame the tories because the sun doesn’t shine. This doesn’t make me a tory boot licker despite what some people think. Boris dun bad, brexit bad (real honest opinion, not that it matters) but well, sir kneel really isn’t any better is he?

      It isn’t the wrong satellite, it can do GNSS, but still people moan about the government buying them (wow, along with India). Tired of everyone blaming the gov for trying to give people better broadband. The last Labour government couldn’t give a damn about broadband, and while i’m on my rant, Comrade Corbyn called the EU “unelected bankers”. But still bollix to brexit and all..

  6. Mark (not Jackson!) says:

    The contrast between informative and interesting editorial and childish bickering in the comments on this site is striking. I must remember to stop reading when I get to “Leave a comment”…

  7. Name says:

    Randy should definitely stop taking class A drugs.

  8. Dave fritzgerlad says:

    If it’s a serious contender to FTTP or whatever speed the OR network can achieve, then good luck.
    As long as it can provide at least 100mb down and 20mb up with a ping of less than 20ms and is affordable then bring it on.
    Anything to compete with the slow rollout of fibre with slow speeds.

  9. NeilM says:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000srgc

    Just for clarification, Chris is from OneWeb in the above conversation.

    So this is an interview/chat about LEO satellite, with a few people including one from oneWeb, where (and I am sure it is subject to change) their primary focus may not be consumer facing, not individually, maybe clusters of individuals – 16:50 onward.

    18:20 when they talk about GPS – Oneweb Gen 1 was never designed for PNT, however later Generations could modified. Maybe as an R&D project.

    Interesting chat regardless.

  10. Number1RussianHacker says:

    oh look…

    another paper on chip scale atomic clocks and LEO satellites, specifically mentioning SpaceX and Oneweb

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/487e/24483f22b43d57da78772dac9d20a948ec23.pdf

    I guess I too must be on class A drugs and a torybot now. Oh well.

  11. Winston Smith says:

    Does anyone know if these LEO satellites can transfer data between themselves or do they need to be over an uplink to provide a connection?

    Much of their orbit must be over oceans, so providing data services for shipping and aircraft too would make sense.

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