OneWeb is the audacious plan to girdle the Earth with 648 mini-satellites and thus deliver low-cost broadband and Internet services to the complete planet. The intention is to “provide high-speed internet connectivity equivalent to terrestrial fibre-optic networks”.
OneWeb is Channel Islands-based and comes from founder Greg Wyler and systems director Brian Holz. Both were closely involved in a similar satellite project, O3b designed to reach the “other 3 billion” under-served (or not connected) would-be broadband customers. O3b already has 12 satellites in orbit and is backed by satellite giant SES.
Holz in a major interview told trade mag Space News that the first 10 satellites would be built by Airbus Defence & Space at their Toulouse factory, but thereafter OneWeb and Airbus would co-develop a dedicated factory in the US to build the remaining 638.
But there’s more. The total build would expand to some 900 satellites allowing for some orbital failures and network expansion. The facility would employ about 700 staff, but the intention is to produce a satellite a day, and at a cost of $400,000-$500,000 per unit. Each satellite should last for around 5 years.
However, OneWeb is highly-focussed on a key date in the calendar. Under International Telecommunications Union (ITU) rules it must ‘bring into use’ the constellation by 2019, and Brian Holz says the system would be operational before that date with the 10 ‘pilot’ satellites.
Holz said that OneWeb saw “millions” of user terminals being made from several vendors, not least one of its financial backers Qualcomm.