OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit satellite communications company jointly owned by the UK Government and Bharti Global (the Airtel parent’s London-based international subsidiary), announced on January 15 that it had secured additional funding from SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems, bringing its total funding to $1.4 billion. “The capital raised to date positions the Company to be fully funded for its first-generation satellite fleet, totaling 648 satellites, by the end of 2022,” Bharti said in a press release.
OneWeb hopes to be delivering broadband worldwide using its satellite constellation as backhaul, and says it will leverage this technology for 5G as well, similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, which may have ambitions to enter the Indian market. OneWeb’s LEO satellite system includes a network of global gateway stations. In December, OneWeb launched 36 new satellites, built at its Airbus Joint Venture assembly plant in Florida, bringing the Company’s total fleet to 110 satellites.
The company says it will be operational in India by 2022, and it appears Airtel may benefit from the satellite backhaul to build more infrastructure in remote areas where cabling may be difficult to extend. It’s not clear if other operators will receive similar connectivity from OneWeb’s network, or if OneWeb will launch a home broadband solution like Starlink. The company’s ambitions appear less gigantic than they once were — it once envisioned a 48,000-satellite strong fleet, but this month approached the US authorities for permission to deploy 6,372 satellites instead. After financial troubles at OneWeb, it was taken over last year by Bharti and the UK government, who are reportedly planning an initial deployment in the UK and the Arctic region this year.