Satellite company OneWeb has raised $1.2 billion in funding to start production of the first of 720 satellites designed to provide global internet access.
SoftBank is the main new backer of the project, providing $1 billion of the extra funding.
OneWeb plans to launch its first 10 production satellites “in early 2018”, said founder and chairman Greg Wyler, welcoming the new investment. “Six months later we will begin our full launch campaign and start providing low latency broadband access as early as 2019.”
The company is building the satellites over four years in a new factory in Florida, which will be designed to complete 15 a week. The 125kg satellites will orbit only 1200km above the earth’s surface, reducing latency to a few milliseconds.
OneWeb said that it will have capacity of more than 10Tbps, and user terminals will contain embedded LTE, 3G, 2G and Wifi. The company has given no details yet of the wholesale arrangements it will have, except that it says “the OneWeb system will extend the networks of mobile operators and internet service providers to serve new coverage areas at a lower cost, bringing voice and data access to consumers, businesses, schools, healthcare institutions and other end users”.
Wyler – who was earlier a founder of rival operator O3b Networks – said: “We will soon provide more details of our roadmap, which includes greater than 100× capacity growth from our first generation system, including gigabit per second speeds, lower latencies, and affordable self-installed terminals. These new capabilities will support both our 2022 goal of connecting every unconnected school and our 2027 goal of bridging the digital divide.”
Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank, said: “SoftBank has a long history of investing in disruptive, foundational technologies that promise to help us realise the future sooner. OneWeb is a tremendously exciting company poised to transform internet access around the world from their manufacturing facility in Florida.”
Wyler said: “While the cities and suburbs of developed countries have broadband access, over 50% of the world, including rural America, Europe and Asia, remain without reliable high-speed connectivity.”
It is the first time SoftBank – which owns Sprint in the US as well as fixed and mobile operations in Japan – has invested in the project. OneWeb was founded with investment from Qualcomm, Airbus, Bharti Enterprises, Hughes Network Systems – a subsidiary of EchoStar – plus Intelsat, Coca-Cola, Virgin and Totalplay, owned by Mexico’s Grupo Salinas.
Wyler’s statement last night implies that Qualcomm and Grupo Salinas are alongside SoftBank in providing the new funding, which is expected to be available in the first quarter of 2017. He said: “We want to thank Softbank, Qualcomm, Grupo Salinas and our tireless, hyper-dedicated, mission driven team for helping to make this vision a reality.”
He said that once the satellites are launched “boundless low latency broadband access will be available for homes, connected cars, trains, planes and cellular backhaul applications.”