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OneWeb raises $1.2B for its satellite based Internet connectivity project

Japanese investment firm Softbank has invested $1 billion into OneWeb, a startup that aims to provide global Internet connectivity using a series of 648 satellites, reports Wall Street Journal. Existing investors have also pitched close to $200 million in the new round, while Softbank is poised to own 40% stake in OneWeb after the investment goes through, added the report.

Current investors in OneWeb include Airbus, Bharti, Coca-Cola, Hughes, Intelsat, MDA, and Virgin. The company’s valuation will shoot up to $2.5 billion after the new round of investment, according to the report.

OneWeb will use the fresh funds to extend worldwide Internet access via its satellites by 2027, and to bring connectivity to “every unconnected” school by 2022, according Greg Wyler, the company’s Founder and Chairman. Wyley said that the company will launch initial 10 satellites which will carry out detailed testing, and six months later it will initiate launch of “full campaign”. The aim is to start providing low latency broadband access at Gigabit per second levels by 2019.

Role of telecom operators and Bharti’s investment in OneWeb

Spectrum for connectivity will come from unlicensed frequencies or through partnerships with telecom operators. The company said that its small cell terminals installed in ground locations will connect to its satellites and transmit Internet to surrounding areas via operator owned LTE, WiFi, 2G and 3G networks. Terminals installed by OneWeb can also be used as access points for schools, hospitals, for weather and navigation systems, and to provide emergency services in areas affected by natural disasters.

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In June last year, Bharti Enterprises which owns Bharti Airtel had invested $500 million into One Web. At that time, the company said that  if a Bharti user walks near one of its terminals and if there is no cell tower around, the phone will connect to a OneWeb terminal and operate normally, charging the user through operator billing.

Other competitors

Tesla owned SpaceX also has plans for a similar connectivity project using hundreds of satellites. The company had filed an application with US telecom regulator FCC last month for approval to launch 4425 satellites into low-orbits. The project aims to provide broadband Internet at lower latency of 25ms-35ms by 2019. Samsung had also revealed plans in August last year to launch 4600 low-orbit satellites. These satellites would be interconnected with each other, providing a total bandwidth of 200 gigabytes per month by 2028.

Apart from this Facebook’s Aquila which is currently under test-mode plans to use solar-powered planes to beam internet to remote parts of the world. However, there is no timeline for launch provided by the company. Google’s Project Loon currently in test mode plans to use high-altitude balloons launched in the stratosphere to create an aerial wireless network.

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