Satellite Internet provider OneWeb has earned $500 million in fundraising to back its efforts to bring global online access to the world. If accomplished, widely available high-speed Internet could be used to bring information into classrooms in developing nations, help detect when a disaster occurs and provide critical information to first responders, and be used in homes, hospitals, and businesses worldwide.
What is OneWeb?
OneWeb is a startup satellite Internet company aiming to spread affordable Internet access across the globe to expand education levels, emergency relief efforts, creativity, and equality worldwide. Founder Greg Wyler intends to use 648 satellites orbiting the Earth to provide high-speed connectivity in areas where access isn’t currently available due to poor infrastructure or high cost.
The company recently attracted equity from Coca-Cola, Bharti Enterprises, Intelsat, and Airbus Group and support from Qualcomm, among others, to make its goal a reality. It has also inked a deal with Virgin Galactic and Arianespace that’s said to be the biggest commercial rocket deal in history.
What happens next?
Though rivals, OneWeb has teamed up with Intelsat to take advantage of the company’s Ku-band satellite capacity. This $25 million equity investment will also give Intelsat access to OneWeb’s satellites — providing each company with the tools they need to accomplish their goals for a global Internet.
Virgin Galactic and Arianespace will provide OneWeb with the rockets needed to launch its satellites into space. French consortium Arianespace will perform 21 launches on the Russian Soyuz rocket between 2017 and 2019, while Virgin Galactic perform 39 launches on LauncherOne during the same time period. In total, more than 900 microsatellites, each weighing roughly 330 pounds, will be built and flown into orbit before the project is complete. The satellites will use low-cost terminals to communicate and will emit 3G, LTE, and Wi-Fi signals around the world.
The deal contains an option for three additional launches by Arianespace after 2020 as well as the possibility for another five Soyuz missions, if needed.
Satellite Internet provider HughesNet will build the ground stations OneWeb will use to further distribute Internet access via mobile providers. Qualcomm will provide the chips used in the system’s hubs and user terminals.
Wyler hopes to have a system up and running by the end of 2019 that will be capable of breaching the digital divide around the world.
Only three billion people are currently online throughout the world, less than half of the total global population. By working together with other industry innovators, OneWeb is on its way to making Internet access readily available to the other 4.2 billion currently doing without — and who knows how that will affect the world.