OneWeb satellite gains higher orbit with Hanwha investment, Northwestel connectivity MoU

Controversial satellite operator makes next step in its Five to 50 mission to cover regions north of 50 degrees latitude with Canadian coverage deal

Still basically emerging from the depths of bankruptcy only just over six months ago, low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications company has taken its rebound strategy to a new level after attracting a $300m equity investment from Hanwha Systems and inking a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Canadian telecommunications provider Northwestel.

Formed in 2012 with the aim of addressing the connectivity needs of hitherto underserved communities, OneWeb has always claimed that its network has a unique capability to provide improved capacity, mobile resilience, backhaul and coverage, including Fixed Wireless Access, in challenging geographic locations. The company developed what it claimed is “cutting-edge” satellite technology from its bases in the UK and the US, emulating Elon Musk’s Starlink project with a constellation of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals to provide what it says is an affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency communications service, connected to internet of things (IoT) devices, and making a pathway for mass adoption of 5G services.

However, the company’s evolution was a struggle and after failing to find private investment, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in the US in March 2020. It was rescued by a $500m investment from both the UK government and Bharti Global – still regarded as doubtful in terms of returns to the UK taxpayer – and returned to business in December 2020 with a 36 satellite payload.

OneWeb’s first generation fleet of 648 satellites that will deliver global coverage in 2022 is fully funded. To date, the company has launched 254 satellites into orbit, with another launch planned this August from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. After the success of recent launches, OneWeb’s network will be ready to offer connectivity services from the 50th parallel and latitudes above by the end of 2021.

In a massive endorsement of its potential and as part of its USD $300m equity investment South Korean Fortune 500 global technology and manufacturing company Hanwha will bring further defence capabilities and the latest antenna technologies to OneWeb, alongside relationships to new government customers and expanded geographical reach.

The investment brings OneWeb’s total equity investment since November 2020 to USD $2.7bn with no debt issuance. Hanwha’s investment is expected to be completed in the first half of 2022, subject to regulatory approvals and on completion, OneWeb will appoint a Board Director to represent Hanwha’s share in the Company.

“We are pleased to join hands with OneWeb, which has strength in the LEO communication area, the core of space business,” commented Hanwha Systems president, chief executive officer and director Youn Chul Kim. “To OneWeb ‘s vision of connecting all the people across the globe, Hanwha System’s satellite and antenna technology will bring more advantages.”

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With NorthwesTel, the MOU follows the successful completion of the Five to 50 programme – which will supply broadband connectivity from the North Pole to the 50th parallel, delivering connectivity across the UK, Canada, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland and the Arctic Region – and encompasses an expansion of connectivity solutions for business, governments and mining across northern Canada.

As part of the agreement, the companies will collaborate on opportunities to deliver new connectivity services to remote mines, businesses and governments across Canada’s north using the low Earth orbit satellite backbone.

“Northwestel is committed to bringing the very best technology to Northerners and this agreement with OneWeb allows us to provide improved broadband services to remote enterprises and governments using state-of-the-art low Earth orbit satellite technology,” said NorthwesTel president Curtis Shaw.

“We look forward to providing innovative solutions for northern businesses to go along with our significant residential service improvements over the coming years.”

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