OneWeb is a company founded in 2012 that aims to bring the internet to every part of the globe (including the poles). How? Through a low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation of satellites placed at distances closer than the classical geosynchronous ones (GEO).
The latter, in fact, are generally placed at about 36 thousand km from the earth’s surface. A distance too high that leads to a greater delay in communication (about half a second). This very delay ultimately is too much for the services and applications that heavily rely on minimal latency such as gaming, online trading, banking and much more.
OneWeb’s project aims to create a constellation of satellites placed at around 1200 km from the earth’s surface (30 times closer than the classical systems) and a system able to offer revolutionary satellite-based navigation speeds of 400 Mega/s with only a 32 milliseconds delay. The initial forecast, to achieve this goal, was to send 650 satellites into orbit.
In its first life cycle, OneWeb successfully sent 74 satellites into orbit as the first part of its constellation. These initial promising results combined with the auspicious value proposition that its services proposed garnered significant interest and demand from various governments and leading brands in the automotive, maritime, corporate and aviation industries.
The initial enthusiasm, however, was dampened by the financial crisis that hit the world with the arrival of Covid-19.
OneWeb, had raised up to the beginning of March 2019, as much as 3.4 billion dollars and was waiting for a new investment from Softbank, which however never arrived.
In early March, 2020, due to lack of funds, OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Under US Law, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows a company to reorganize itself in order to sort out its financial issues. Furthermore, it also allows a company to continue certain operations. OneWeb pursued this form of bankruptcy as a strategy to keep its key operations, active while waiting for a new consortium of investors.
CEO Adrian Steckel’s statements on the situation: “OneWeb has been building a truly global communications network to provide high-speed low latency broadband everywhere. Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. We remain convinced of the social and economic value of our mission to connect everyone everywhere. Today is a difficult day for us at OneWeb. So many people have dedicated so much energy, effort, and passion to this company and our mission. Our hope is that this process will allow us to carve a path forward that leads to the completion of our mission, building on the years of effort and the billions of invested capital. It is with a very heavy heart that we have been forced to reduce our workforce and enter the Chapter 11 process while the Company’s remaining employees are focused on responsibly managing our nascent constellation and working with the Court and investors.”
Soon after the statement, the company embarked on the required restructuring process, reducing operations and keeping only essential staff members, while seeking new investors. Eventually new investors were found, the UK government and Bharti Global (a private Indian telecommunications company), who shelled out $1 billion ($500m each).
The British government would like to move the entire project to the UK, returning (after more than 60 years) to sending something into space from its own soil. Until before the takeover, rockets were sent into orbit by the European agency Arianespace, which used Russian rockets launched from South America and Kazakhstan.
Recent collaborations include an interest from BT Group Plc, which would like to connect remote parts of Britain via broadband.
There are, in fact, some areas that are not covered by terrestrial cable connections or wireless networks due to a high cost for their implementation. A single satellite system might be the least expensive (economically) solution for the government.
To give an example: the Scottish Highlands are not reached by either fibre or a basic connection and this is unthinkable nowadays.
The commercial implementation of OneWeb is at present still nebulous, but there is good reason to believe that once their best ideas and strategies breakout from the various think tanks, they will solidify their position in the market as a competitive alternative to other key players such as Starlink. More developments are coming.
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