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British Satellite Broadband Firm OneWeb Shut Alaska Site Over Cost and Technical Woes

Monday, Jan 9th, 2023 (8:07 am) - Score 2,616
oneweb leo satellite

British registered satellite operator OneWeb, which is partly owned by the UK Government, has closed one of its first – and most heavily promoted – test sites in Alaska after the Alaska Telecom Association (ATA) and local providers complained that the service was “too costly to adopt” and was “discontinued due to ongoing technical difficulties.”

OneWeb has so far launched 502 of their small c.150kg LEO based ultrafast (100Mbps+) and low-latency (sub-100ms) broadband satellites into space – orbiting at an altitude of 1,200km above the Earth – and their initial plan is to build a constellation of 648 (588 for coverage and the rest are redundancy), which is enough for a good level of global coverage. This is due to be completed by the end of 2023.

NOTE: OneWeb’s commercial service initially serves parts of the UK, Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and the Arctic seas.

At present, OneWeb’s service is largely still focused on serving government, maritime, aviation and enterprise needs rather than community connectivity. Community broadband and mobile connectivity for homes is still expected to come later, such as via partner ISPs like BT (here) and Eutelsat (KONNECT), albeit probably only after the full first-generation (GEN1) constellation has launched.

However, the test site in the village of Akiak (Alaska) was one of the first to demonstrate the benefits of using OneWeb’s satellites to provide faster broadband to such a remote community (this seems to have been distributed via fixed wireless to local homes), which was heavily promoted by the operator. The setup for this was well detailed in a promotional video that was released only six months ago.

Despite this, the ATA and local providers wrote a letter to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which complained that OneWeb’s “service is too costly to adopt” and had been discontinued “due to ongoing technical difficulties,” although the Telegraph‘s (paywall) summary of this letter doesn’t provide any real detail on those issues.

At the same time, it’s noted that the community now has access to SpaceX’s Starlink service, which appears to be regarded more favourably and has indeed been more focused on connecting individual homes since day one. This may highlight the challenges that OneWeb could face in trying to compete directly with Starlink, which operates a much bigger network and has already attracted a million customers.

The article doesn’t include a quote from OneWeb directly, but it does note that sources familiar with the deployment had highlighted how the Alaskan test site was small and not commercialised. In addition, OneWeb’s service is said to remain operational in other parts of the state, as part of deals with local providers.

The UK government still has plans to trial OneWeb’s platform as part of a solution for bringing broadband to remote rural communities, but the details of this remain unclear. This is something the government are already doing with Starlink (here). At the same time, Starlink is already generally live for UK consumers, but it’s still a fairly expensive option.

As a side note, OneWeb will this week launch their next batch of 40 LEO satellites into orbit, which will take place aboard one of SpaceX’s Falcon9 rockets.

UPDATE 9:17am

Apparently OneWeb isn’t able to comment on the above story because the company is all tied up in the USA right now for the imminent launch. But we understand that rural Alaska is still being serviced by the operator in places like Bristol Bay, Akiak, Yukon Delta and their partners are understood to be happy.

But different people and organisations can sometimes have varied performance, particularly during the pre-commercial launch phase. Starlink itself suffered from plenty of connectivity and other problems before its full commercial launch, although some would say that they haven’t yet completely ironed all of those out.

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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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1 Response
  1. Avatar photo Alistair Webb says:

    Dumb move I think trialling service in US.
    You’re not American, Starlink.

    Better luck in Eastern Europe.

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