OneWeb — an aerospace company with plans of becoming a global provider of Internet broadband from space — has announced its first official commercial service, targeting the Arctic first.
According to the London-based company, their plans will prioritize bringing “fiber-like” Internet to the Arctic region and plans to be the first company to provide 100% coverage to the region starting as early as 2020 through its up and coming satellite constellation.
OneWeb is a heavily funded space startup whose goal is to become a global provider of Internet and other Internet of Things (IoT) services through its micro-satellites. Earlier this year, a funding round to help develop this technology closed at around $1.25 billion.
So far, OneWeb has launched the first six satellites of its constellation as a way to conduct reliability and performance tests before releasing hundreds more into orbit.
According to the company, they were able to conduct HD video streaming tests with the spacecraft launched in July. The tests showed that the satellites are operational and have a relatively low latency, which was only under 40 milliseconds.
However, through the planned mega-constellation, OneWeb says that they can do more and expand the service globally, providing high-speed internet to homes, boats, and planes all located above the 60th parallel north latitude.
In total, OneWeb aims to launch at least 650 microsatellites to build the initial mega-constellation, which they say should be enough to beam Internet connectivity to a series of ground terminals on Earth, which specifically focuses on hard-to-reach areas in the planet.
These microsatellites will orbit at a relatively low altitude in order to allow connections to communicate signals faster between those on Earth and in space. With so many satellites, OneWeb says it can provide global coverage, with at least one satellite in view of any area of the Earth at all times.
Once in orbit, the satellites promise to be able to support up to 375Gbps of capacity to areas lying above the 60th parallel north, which is basically a circle of latitude 60 degrees north of the Equator that spans North America, Europe, and Asia.
However, the company’s particular focus is at the Arctic, where Internet providers often consider as a hard-to-reach location because of the extreme terrain that technological essentials such as fiberoptic cables find difficult to overcome.
OneWeb knows that an effective workaround to deliver fast Internet other than the traditional fiberoptic cables is through harnessing the advantages of space transmission.
The company cites that it already has two active ground stations in Norway and Alaska. Those stations will serve as the middle ground to connect consumers with the satellites, thus receiving seamless Internet connectivity.
OneWeb claims that its satellite constellation will be able to provide its services to the 48 percent of the Arctic that currently doesn’t have broadband coverage.
Furthermore, the new satellite infrastructure will also complement existing ground-based technologies, such as fiber cables, to extend coverage. But will also significantly ensure “always-on” coverage during natural disasters while powering new technologies that require low-latency connectivity, like (IoT) devices and autonomous vehicles.
According to OneWeb, these functionalities should be fully operational by January 2020.
In light of the plans set for the Arctic region, local politicians showed in favor of the idea as it may not only serve as a means to help connect people to a broader perspective but also open new commercial opportunities and overall economic development in the region.
“Connectivity is critical in our modern economy,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said in a statement. “As the Arctic opens, ensuring the people of the Arctic have access to affordable and reliable broadband will make development safer, more sustainable and create new opportunities for the next generation leading in this dynamic region of the globe.”
OneWeb’s commercial service particularly puts focus on business endeavors, including advancing scientific research and governmental initiatives in the region, as well as aviation and maritime interests.
“Connectivity is now an essential utility and a basic human right,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said in a statement. “Our constellation will offer universal high-speed Arctic coverage sooner than any other proposed system meeting the need for widespread connectivity across the Arctic.”
Particularly, Steckel is referring to other companies aiming to provide similar services such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX with its Starlink mega-constellation that’s touted to consist of 12,000 satellites that will also provide global broadband Internet.
Fortunately, OneWeb has the advantage by launching its plans first ahead of the competition and is already working on expanding its service.
OneWeb plans to launch its satellites in batches of 36 aboard Arianespace’s Soyuz rocket. The next launch is slated for later this year.