Technology

OneWeb faces stiff competition from the likes of SpaceX, Amazon.
Idrees Abbas | Sopa Images | Lightrocket via Getty Images

OneWeb, a rival to Elon Musk’s Starlink internet satellite venture, is aiming to roll out coverage globally after successfully launching the final batch of satellites needed for its broadband service over the weekend.

The British startup launched an additional 36 satellites Sunday morning from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, taking its total constellation so far to 618 satellites. The satellites launched 9 a.m. local time Sunday on an LVM3 rocket developed by India’s state-owned NewSpace India Limited.

While OneWeb has a few more satellites to deploy in May and June, it now has enough to deliver internet connectivity to any spot in the globe, according to company executives. The company hopes to offer its clients worldwide coverage by the end of the year.

“This means that we will be able to provide what has been missing for a long period of time: high-speed, low latency broadband connectivity onto every ocean-going vessel — yachts, maritime industry, oil rigs offshore — every aircraft will now be connected with a high speed, low latency connectivity,” OneWeb Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said on a call with reporters Monday morning.

“Desert, forest, mountain, Himalayas — hard-to-reach areas will all start to get covered.”

Barring a few ground stations which are yet to be established, Mittal said most of the “critical” Earth-based infrastructure for its network is now in play.

Founded in 2012, OneWeb wants to beam high-speed internet to the Earth from a network of low-Earth orbit satellites at an altitude of about 750 miles.

OneWeb plans to launch 648 satellites in total, of which 588 satellites are required for global coverage. The rest will serve as spares that can step in, in case some other satellites on the network go rogue.

OneWeb competes with a range of companies including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Amazon and Inmarsat.

In July last year, it agreed a deal to combine with Eutelsat, the French satellite company. Management expects the merger to be finalized by the summer.

Following the deal’s completion, OneWeb plans to pursue a secondary listing on the London Stock Exchange.

The firm is up against some fierce competition. Starlink, the space internet unit of Musk’s SpaceX, has launched thousands of satellites to bring network connectivity to places with patchy internet.

Mittal said OneWeb had “some catching up to do” but added the firm is seeing “robust” demand from its target markets, which include North America, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, Latin America and Africa.

The company, which is lossmaking, is currently generating revenue in the millions of dollars every month, according to Mittal. It expects to one day attract hundreds of millions of dollars of income.

Unlike Starlink, which sells broadband packages to consumers, OneWeb says it is targeting enterprise clients.

It has done deals with major telecoms firms including Australia’s Telstra and France’s Orange. By the end of March, OneWeb had 15 customers in total.

OneWeb was rescued from bankruptcy in a $1 billion financing package backed by the U.K. government and Indian telecommunications conglomerate Bharti Global.

In the face of numerous setbacks, including the inability to launch satellites from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, OneWeb has continued to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars of investment from previous backers SoftBank to fuel its costly ambition of delivering from space.

“The promise I made to to British government has been realized,” Mittal said Monday.

The government holds a 20% stake in OneWeb and is its second-largest shareholder.

Following the transaction with Eutelsat, the government will retain some control through a “special share” that grants it a say on the location of future OneWeb launches and the national security safeguards the firm has in place.

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