OneWeb achieves higher orbit with Eutelsat investment, AT&T deal

Controversial UK government and Bharti-owned satellite operator closes investment from leading French satellite operator and seals deal with US comms giant to provide high-speed broadband connectivity to hard-to-reach locations via satellite

The engine burners are beginning to ignite for broadband satellite provider OneWeb. Just weeks after announcing the launch of an additional 34 craft, it has confirmed the completion of substantial investment by French satellite operator Eutelsat and signed what could be an even more significant deal with US comms provider AT&T.

Formed in 2012 with the aim of addressing the connectivity needs of underserved communities, OneWeb has always claimed that its satellite 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 “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 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.

French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications first announced in April 2021 that it was to make a strategic investment in the UK government and Bharti Global low Earth orbit (LEO) project as it looked for growth beyond traditional broadcast and broadband applications, becoming a shareholder partner.

The operator has now confirmed the closing of its $550m equity investment in OneWeb and, subject to completion of the subsequently announced investments in OneWeb by Bharti and Hanwha – the latter a USD$300m equity investment by the South Korean Fortune 500 global technology and manufacturing company – Eutelsat will hold a 17.6% stake.

“We are delighted to close this investment in OneWeb, giving us a foothold in the low Earth orbit segment,” commented Eutelsat chief executive officer Rodolphe Belmer. “We look forward to working in cooperation with OneWeb as its entry into operational service fast approaches, with almost 50% of the constellation now in orbit.”

The latest launch of craft on 21 August brings OneWeb’s total in-orbit constellation to 288 satellites. The company said it remains on track to deliver a global service in 2022 and is seeing growing demand from telecommunications providers, internet service providers and governments worldwide to offer its low-latency, high-speed connectivity services to the hardest-to-reach places.

This latter capability was key to the company signing its strategic agreement deal with American comms company AT&T, which wants to harness the capabilities of satellite technology to improve access for its business customers in remote and challenging geographic locations, complementing its existing technologies such as fibre broadband.

The AT&T business fibre network already enables high-speed connections to over 2.5 million US business customer locations across the country, with the operator claiming that more than nine million business customer locations are within 1,000ft of AT&T fibre. Yet it concedes that there are still remote areas that existing networks can’t reach, with high-speed, low-latency broadband essential to business operations.

AT&T will use the OneWeb satellites to enhance connectivity when connecting to its enterprise, small and medium-sized business and government customers, as well as hard-to-reach cell towers. OneWeb expects to attain global coverage with a total fleet of 648 satellites by the end of 2022. AT&T business and government customers in Alaska and northern US states will be covered later this year as part of OneWeb’s Five to 50 mission to cover regions north of 50 degrees latitude, including the UK, Canada, Alaska and Arctic region.

“Working with OneWeb, we’ll be able to enhance high-speed connectivity in places that we don’t serve today and meet our customers’ needs wherever they are,” said Scott Mair, president, network engineering and operations, at AT&T. “We’re expanding our network with one more option to help ensure that our business customers have the high-speed, low-latency connectivity they need to thrive as the nation recovers from Covid-19.”

OneWeb chief executive officer Neil Masterson said its enterprise-grade network had a unique capability to serve hard-to-reach businesses and communities. “Our work with AT&T will focus on how satellite technology can support improved capacity and coverage in remote, rural and challenging geographic locations,” he said. “Today’s agreement with AT&T demonstrates OneWeb’s execution momentum and the confidence customers such as AT&T have in its services and offering.”

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