OneWeb, with help from Arianespace and a Russian Soyuz rocket, lifted six of its satellites from French Guiana on February 27th (at 18.37 local time, 21.37 GMT), and thus began the first step of a work-load that will eventually see 648 active satellites in orbit.
Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb’s plan is simple: to circle the planet with broadband capacity and to reach every unserved or underserved corner of the globe.
These half-dozen satellites are considered pioneers, and are necessary to ‘bring into use’ the frequencies allocated by the Federal Communications Commission. OneWeb (with joint-venture partner Airbus) must then ramp up production of the remaining craft and launch them in monthly batches of up to 36 in order to start service perhaps late next year and for full implementation in 2021.
This multi-billion project has to have matching ground terminals based just about everywhere to link with the satellites and to get customers hooked up to the internet.
“We have a tonne of spectrum and we have it everywhere on Planet Earth,” explained OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel. “We’re going to connect lots of people who’re not currently connected. We’re going to start by focusing on connecting schools, connecting boats, connecting planes, and connecting huge swathes of the planet that don’t make sense for fibre,” he told BBC News in an interview.
OneWeb’s partners in the enterprise, besides Airbus, includes Japanese media giant Softbank, Coca-Cola, Virgin Group, Intelsat and chip-maker Qualcomm.