Starlink faces competition, OneWeb one launch away from global internet

The firm faced financial collapse during the pandemic but is now serving customers in 15 countries.
Ameya Paleja
Elon Musk and OneWeb.
Elon Musk and OneWeb.

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U.K.-based OneWeb is one launch away from having enough satellites in orbit to cover the entire expanse of the Earth. Once ready, Elon Musk's Starlink won't be the only company offering such as service, the BBC reported.

Both OneWeb and Starlink use constellations of satellites in low Earth orbits (LEO) instead of the conventional geostationary orbits (GEO). The lower altitude of the LEO satellites helps in reducing latency or the delay that data takes to make a round trip over a network. Lower latency means a more responsive internet connection, smoother video calls, and hassle-free collaborations.

How OneWeb plans to take on Starlink

Last week, OneWeb launched 40 satellites to take up its constellation tally to 580. Another launch in the coming few weeks will increase its coverage further. However, three years ago, the company was in dire straits with only 80 satellites in orbit, and its finances collapsed.

The company was rescued by a joint venture between the U.K. government and international telecom provider Bharti and has made a remarkable turnaround putting an additional 500 satellites into orbit so far.

OneWeb's fleet of satellites is divided into 12 separate planes in the sky and relies on automation for their management. It is the only other company, besides Musk's SpaceX, that has put satellites into orbit to provide internet services so far. Interestingly, OneWeb uses SpaceX's launch services to put its satellites into orbit.

However, this is where the similarities between the companies end. Unlike Starlink, which is trying to woo individual customers to its service, OneWeb is tapping into existing telecom providers who are looking to supplement or expand their networks. Doing so frees up the company from having to individually apply for regulatory clearances in each country in which it plans to operate.

The company, which only began services in May last year, had $800 million in backlog booking by December. The satellites it sent up last year are expected to go online by May this year and provide services in 48 states in the U.S. as well as northern Mediterranean regions.

By the end of the summer, the service will extend to Mexico, Northern Africa, and India; equatorial areas could be connected by the end of the year. This will also be followed by connectivity over Antarctica, ensuring global coverage.

Additionally, OneWeb is also looking to merge with French company Eutelsat which distributes TV channels through its satellite network. When the merger goes through, the company could also be in a position to play a role in the European connectivity constellation, Iris Squared.

With a constellation size of lesser than 1,000, OneWeb is poised to take on Starlink. The era of satellite-based internet has now truly begun.

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