The past few weeks has seen more than a few commentators suggest that OneWeb, the proposed ‘mega-constellation’ of an initial 648 satellites, is in trouble.
They have suggested the cash needed to finance the operation is not going to happen, or the satellites are costing far more than originally envisaged, that launch dates have slipped, too many CEO changes (4), and that there’s too much focus on the building and launching and not enough – if any – on marketing and sales of services.
Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb, in an extensive interview in trade magazine Via Satellite, firmly rebuts those doomsayers. He was candid and admitted that there were plenty of things to worry about.
He admits that the launch plans have slipped but that the [first batch of] satellites are being tested, and that their performance was better than expected. He also agreed that the promised 2019 service introduction will slip to “early or mid-2020” with customers on board.
Wyler says that any project of this size always needed more cash, but that OneWeb had earned the confidence of investors despite the volatility of the financial markets. Japan’s SoftBank is a major investor in the project and Wyler stated that the bank had been very supportive.
As to the cost of each satellite he said whether it is a half-million dollars or 1 million per satellite, those figures were largely irrelevant, but that as production increases those costs will come down. Meanwhile, the OneWeb satellites themselves were more capable than originally expected, and the ‘cost per bit’ was continuing to drop.
OneWeb was still targeting health centres and schools, as well as conventional business and aviation users.