OneWeb is a $3 billion project to circle the Earth with about 700 small satellites and beaming broadband connectivity to underserved communities. It is backed, in part, by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and telco giant Qualcomm.
The problem is that the satellites operate at just 1200 kms in space, and well below their bigger brothers in the sky, the geostationary satellites which beam TV programming to millions of homes below. The OneWeb satellites operate in the same frequency banks (Ku) as the geostationary craft.
The fear is that every time one of the OneWeb satellites passes beneath a geostationary craft there will be unintentional – but very real – interference to reception from the well-established satellites above. All satellites are obliged to carefully co-ordinate their downlink beams so as to wholly avoid interference.
OneWeb has yet to formally file its intentions with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which administers and approves all satellite transmissions. Brian Holz, OneWeb’s VP/operations, told a Paris conference last week that until it had submitted its plans to the ITU it was unfair of established satellite operators to complain, let alone object.
But that has not curtailed a significant number of highly vocal objectors. One senior industry figure, Tom Choi, CEO of ABS of Bermuda and Hong Kong, said he could not see how OneWeb “can avoid interference” and demanded that OneWeb comer clean and explain to the industry how they were going to avoid these problems. “From every calculation that we are doing, we can’t see how they can avoid creating interference.”
One supporter – and investor – is Intelsat, and their CEO Steven Spengler said his company’s participation in OneWeb represented opportunities in that the intention was for a OneWeb satellite to ‘hand over’ its on-board traffic whenever it was near the Equator (and thus a geostationary satellite’s orbit). This only prompted the objectors to state that if this physical handover was needed for a fleet of near-800 satellites then the Intelsat fleet was going to be very busy, and therefore interference was a very obvious risk.
Eutelsat’s Michel de Rosen said the OneWeb scheme had to be investigated, because it was not enough to hope that it would work without interference.