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OneWeb and BT Confirmed for Rural UK Satellite Broadband Trial UPDATE

Tuesday, Apr 11th, 2023 (11:00 am) - Score 3,296
OneWeb First Generation Satellite in Orbit

Earlier today the Government revealed (here) that they’d commit £8m to help deliver “high-speed broadband” (they didn’t clearly define this) via Satellite ISP solutions for up to 35,000 of the UK’s “most remote properties” (i.e. those unable to get gigabit-capable connections). We now know that this will involve OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) network via partners BT and Clarus.

Just to recap. At present, the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit broadband scheme aims to extend 1Gbps capable (download speed) networks to reach nationwide coverage (c. 99%) by around 2030 (here). But the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has previously recognised that 0.3% of UK premises (i.e. under 100,000) will be “Very Hard to Reach” (i.e. too expensive for even Project Gigabit to tackle).

The Government has since been consulting on alternative options for tackling such areas (here), although they were known to be considering technologies like satellite, fixed wireless access and mobile connectivity. Indeed, we’ve already seen some limited deployments that use Starlink’s mega-constellation of LEO satellites (here). At the time, the government also signalled that OneWeb might be involved in future trials, which brings us to today’s announcement.

The government’s official press release was extremely vague and included no real detail, but we now know that they intend to deploy a solution delivered via OneWeb, BT and Clarus. Trials will take place in the Shetland Islands and on Lundy Island, near the north Devon coast. These trials build on OneWeb’s community broadband trials to sites in remote locations such as Canada, Greenland, and soon to British territories in the South Atlantic.

Michelle Donelan MP, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, said:

“Our Wireless Infrastructure Strategy sets out our plan to ensure everyone, no matter where they live, can reap the benefits of improved connectivity. With the help of companies like OneWeb, we are committing £8m to provide satellite connectivity for our most remote communities so that no one is left behind, while ensuring all populated areas in the UK will be served by what I call ‘5G-plus’ technology by 2030.

This package of measures turbocharges our progress towards becoming a science and tech superpower with a substantial initial investment in the future of telecoms.”

Neil Masterson, CEO OneWeb, said:

“We are excited to demonstrate the impact of LEO connectivity through these trials. From the beginning, OneWeb’s mission has been to bridge the digital divide for communities, but there are still countries around the world where reliable access to connectivity is unattainable. Working with the government, alongside our trusted partners and customers, OneWeb can help to bring connectivity to the communities and businesses that need it most, in underserved regions in the UK and around the world.”

In terms of how they define “high-speed“, they merely said that the service would be “up to ten times faster than what is currently available to them“, which is as clear as mud. Individual homes in the targeted areas can differ between as much as sub-1Mbps and up to over the USO level (10Mbps+), thus such generalised language is difficult to interpret. But we would hope that they’d at least be aiming for the 30Mbps+ level, except if that were the case then the “superfast” terminology would have surely been used.

OneWeb itself has so far launched a total of 618 of their small c.150kg LEO based broadband satellites into space – orbiting at an altitude of 1,200km above the Earth (588 of them are for coverage and the rest redundancy). The ultrafast (100Mbps+) and low-latency (sub-100ms) network has often touted itself as a potential problem solver for rural homes and businesses, which is something they’ve been developing with BT since 2021 (here). But we still have no solid data on how this might actually perform for UK homes in the real-world.

Furthermore, there are several different approaches that BT and OneWeb might take to this. For example, they could use OneWeb to provide the backhaul (data capacity) for a local 4G or 5G mobile network, or adopt a Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) style solution. In both cases, an external antenna may be required for homes to get the best possible service performance. Hopefully further details will emerge soon.

UPDATE

OneWeb has informed us that they’re doing the Lundy Island trial, while Clarus are doing Shetland.

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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
7 Responses
  1. Avatar photo IloveLundy says:

    Blimey Lundy island that is a good place. I think last time I was there it was literally a few cottages, museum, shop and a pub. I assume the staff at the air strip can also benefit from it – Nice one BT that’s about as best a place as can be!

  2. Avatar photo Alan S says:

    Seems like a bit of a waste given how good starlinks coverage is, looks like a few areas of Shetland currently not covered but partnering with one web who are miles behind the well proven starlink system

    smells of government bias to me. No coincidence they had to bail them out so keen to prop them up with subsidies when there is a commercial offering that stands on its own. Sure starlink is a bit expensive by why not have a level playing field where communities/ individuals choose how to spend and subsidsise to bring costs more into line with urban areas cost.

    1. Avatar photo Reality Bytes says:

      UK started a Starlink trial in December 2022.

  3. Avatar photo Baw Jaws says:

    Nae bother toaster dome.

  4. Avatar photo Damian says:

    4G and 5G while they appear to give you a decent speed have proved in practice in my experience to be slow and sometimes unusable.

    1. Avatar photo Alan S says:

      Indeed latency seems to be an issue primarily for our VOIP system where I have seen colleagues who had to resort to this during pandemic, I don’t know if it is the little 4g router/ dongle struggling or fundamental to the networks as clearly the same towers can manage voice calls but I am not familiar with how that works.

  5. Avatar photo UKNOF Viewer says:

    This was discussed in a recent presentation at UKNOF, see the following link, the video should be on their YouTube channel soon https://indico.uknof.org.uk/event/62/contributions/888/

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