Revitalized OneWeb challenges SpaceX/Starlink & Amazon/Kuiper for Broadband Satellite Service
Space X and Amazon now have company in what may become a satellite broadband “space war.” A long distance race involving three of the world’s richest men has just begun!
India tycoon Sunil Mital’s Bharti Airtel plans to invest $2 billion for a 50% stake in the once bankrupt low-Earth orbit satellite constellation company OneWeb and says that company will be offering global broadband services within 18 months in Alaska and the UK.
”By May-June of 2022, which is less than 18 months, OneWeb’s constellation will cover the entire globe, every square inch of this world,” the founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises said Wednesday at a conference hosted by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union and Saudi Arabian communication regulator CITC.
OneWeb says it will resume launches of its satellites with a Soyuz launch scheduled for Dec. 17 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Credit: GK Launch Services
Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets have launched over 500 satellites for the Starlink constellation since OneWeb went into bankruptcy in March. Starlink is now testing broadband internet service with potential customers. Unlike OneWeb, Starlink’s service isn’t set to cover the extreme north and south of the planet for now, offering its rival a potential niche serving governments, shipping and aviation in remote regions.
“We welcome competition,” Mittal said. “We fight like hell in the marketplace.” Later generations of OneWeb satellites could provide global positioning capabilities, he added.
OneWeb has put 74 of an initial 648 planned satellites in orbit so far, and plans to resume launches this month. It’s not yet secured all the funding it needs to complete the constellation. Mittal estimated the overall cost at between $5.5 billion and $7 billion and said the remaining shortfall is between $2 billion and $2.5 billion — with half of that to be covered by Bharti and the British government. As for raising further capital with other investors, he said: “I don’t see that to be an issue.”
“There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or where it doesn’t exist at all. Kuiper will change that. Our $10 billion investment will create jobs and infrastructure around the United States that will help us close this gap,” Amazon senior vice president Dave Limp said in a statement.
Amazon has not outlined a timeline for Kuiper and the FCC said the company has not finished the satellites’ design.
7 thoughts on “Revitalized OneWeb challenges SpaceX/Starlink & Amazon/Kuiper for Broadband Satellite Service”
I very much like this immaculate article on the new satellite broadband “space wars.” Thanks
I’ve been following SpaceX’s Starlink for a while now, and I think it was only a matter of time until Amazon got in on the action. It will be exciting to see who comes out on top, and fingers crossed, it’s the people. If either of these companies can provide 100% uptime with fast speeds at a low price, everyone wins.
Hello Chad, Thanks for your comment and I too hope that “everyone wins.”
I can’t help feeling that solutions like Cityfibre leased lines will be a more reliable service for business in the UK. This sounds like a great residential / rural solution though.
SpaceX to focus on 10 rural Lok Sabha constituencies for 80% of Starlink terminals shipped to India
SpaceX will shortly apply to the Indian government for a licence to launch its Starlink satellite broadband services in the country and is aiming to touch 200,000 active terminals by December 2022.
Usually I do not learn from most blog posts. However, this write-up is very compelling and I learned a lot from it! Quite a nice article on OneWeb’s comeback. Your writing style has amazed me. Many thanks.
Bloomberg: Musk’s Starlink Brings Internet to Ukraine, and Attention to a New Space Race
SpaceX enabled its Starlink satellite broadband service in Ukraine and began shipping additional dishes. Those dishes are especially valuable now that Russia’s military is targeting Ukrainian infrastructure. “Received the second shipment of Starlink stations!” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, tweeted on March 9. “@elonmusk keeps his word!”
The dishes Starlink’s Elon Musk has provided to Ukraine and to Tonga following its January tsunami have cast a spotlight on low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, a new generation of spacecraft that can circle the globe in just 90 minutes and connect users to the internet. They’re small and inexpensive: A Starlink satellite weighs 260 kilograms (573 pounds) and costs from $250,000 to $500,000, while an Inmarsat Group Holdings Ltd. geostationary satellite can clock in at 4 metric tons and sell for $130 million.
The satellite networks will be able to provide broadband access to tens of millions of people in places such as rural India that otherwise lack access to more traditional mobile and fixed-line networks. “There is a large opportunity to bridge the digital divide in remote areas where the cost of terrestrial communication is high, and hence both voice and broadband communication have not been set up,” says Anil Bhatt, director general of the Indian Space Association.
On March 9, Musk boasted that SpaceX had sent 48 more satellites into orbit, adding to its over 2,000 already circling the Earth. But Musk has rivals with their own LEO satellite ambitions. They include fellow space billionaire Jeff Bezos. Amazon.com Inc.’s Kuiper Systems wants to launch more than 7,000 satellites. On March 5 a Chinese rocket launched six LEO satellites for Beijing-based GalaxySpace, which plans a constellation with as many as 1,000. The European Union in February announced a plan for a constellation that would cost about €6 billion ($6.6 billion). And Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Global, along with the British government, is an investor in OneWeb Ltd., which plans to begin operating its LEO constellation of 648 satellites this year. It intended to launch its latest group of satellites on March 5 aboard a Russian rocket, but canceled after the Kremlin’s space agency demanded that the U.K. sell its stake. OneWeb is looking for alternative services for six future launches.
Unlike more established operators, which have a relatively small number of satellites in fixed locations about 36,000 kilometers (22,369 miles) above sea level, companies launching LEO satellites place them at heights of 550 to 1,200 km. That makes it easier for the satellites to provide speedy services than those higher in space, says Marco Caceres, an analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm. “They’re going to make a lot of these traditional systems dinosaurs overnight,” he says, adding that Starlink alone is likely to have 4,500 satellites in operation by the middle of the decade. “They’re moving at lightning speed.”
SpaceX began signing up customers in India in 2021 even though it didn’t have a license to offer Starlink service there. India’s government in January demanded the company return money from would-be customers. As SpaceX works out its entry strategy for India, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.—the telecommunications operator controlled by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest person—in February formed a joint venture with Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES SA to provide internet access via satellites in geostationary and medium-Earth orbits.
While the new satellite companies boast of their ability to reach underserved communities, many will struggle to make their equipment affordable for some target markets, says Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Bloxham. According to BI, a standard Starlink plan costs $499 for the hardware, plus a monthly fee of $99. But there are other reasons governments are likely to provide financial support for internet via satellite, Bloxham says: “It provides resilience in case of a cyberattack that takes out the regular internet that we know today.”
Still, critics say Musk and others aren’t considering the risks of having too many satellites in a relatively narrow band above Earth. “What’s going on now is there’s a race to put up as many as possible for the rights that are implied by having those satellites, even if it’s not economically justified, or safe, or sustainable,” says Mark Dankberg, chairman of Viasat Inc., a California-based satellite operator of geostationary satellites, which in November agreed to buy rival Inmarsat for $4 billion. As operators attempted to bulk up in response to the challenge from newcomers, M&A deal volume for the satellite industry in 2021 reached its highest level since 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, with companies signing 60 deals worth $18 billion.
China in December said two of Starlink’s satellites came dangerously close to its space station. The U.S. said there had been no “significant probability” of a Starlink collision with the Chinese station, but some experts worry that the situation was a sign of what’s to come. International agreements governing space date to the 1960s and ’70s, when billionaires didn’t have their own space programs. “We have so many of these new actors coming on board, and we don’t have sufficiently strong international law,” says Maria Pozza, a director at Gravity Lawyers in Christchurch, New Zealand, who advises clients on space law and regulation. “We’ve got a little bit of a mess.”
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