OneWeb wins NEOM contract
October 27, 2021
By Chris Forrester
NEOM Tech & Digital Holding Company – the first holding company to be established as a subsidiary of NEOM – and OneWeb have signed a $200 million (€172.1m) joint venture agreement to bring high-speed satellite connectivity to NEOM, Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East and neighbouring East African countries.
The partnership will see the deployment of OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations in the region where access to fibre-like internet was previously not possible. The agreement also includes a long-term strategic partnership regarding research and development of future connectivity systems.
It also builds on the relationship between OneWeb and the Ministry Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia (MISA). Established in 2017, they are focused on unlocking Saudi Arabia’s nascent orbital space technology sector for private investors. In addition, it further strengthens ties between Saudi Arabia and the UK Government, which is a major strategic investor in OneWeb.
NEOM and OneWeb expect to complete ground infrastructure in 2022. NEOM and the new JV entity will have exclusive rights to distribute OneWeb services in its target regions for seven years from the initiation of the LEO satellite network, which is expected to commence in 2023.
Joseph Bradley, CEO, NEOM Tech & Digital Hold Co., and Neil Masterson, CEO, OneWeb, formalized the agreement at a signing ceremony at the Kingdom’s flagship Future Investment Initiative event. Also in attendance were: His Excellency Khalid Al Falih, Minister of Investment, Saudi Arabia; His Excellency Abdullah Alswaha, Minister for Communications & Information Technology, Saudi Arabia; Lord Gerry Grimstone, Minister for Investment at Department for International Trade and Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK; Nadhmi Al Nasr, CEO, NEOM; and Sunil Bharti Mittal, Executive Chairman, OneWeb.
H.E. Al-Falih said: “It is a great pleasure to witness the signing of the joint venture between NEOM and OneWeb, which is a testament to Saudi Arabia’s promising future in the space technology sectors. Today’s agreement will contribute to economic growth and accelerate digital and communications knowledge transfer to the Kingdom through the transformative NEOM vision. As the Ministry of Investment works to implement the National Investment Strategy recently launched by HRH the Crown Prince, we will continue to provide support to this and other differentiated initiatives and projects and look forward to seeing it come to fruition in the near future.”
H.E. Al Swaha said: “This ground-breaking joint venture shows the power of collaboration between nations, and with the private sector. By working together, we will bring digital connectivity to a region of more than a billion people, opening access to life-changing opportunities in education, healthcare and the job market. We are one step closer to ensuring that no child is left on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
UK Investment Minister Gerry Grimstone said: “This joint venture brings together two emerging space and digital technology champions to deliver connectivity for the Middle East. It demonstrates that the UK Government’s investment in OneWeb continues to be a catalyst for international collaboration, while securing jobs at home and driving investment into the UK space sector.”
Bradley said: “We aim to connect 100 per cent of NEOM’s territory yet we must also preserve the natural environment. This is what drives us to innovate with partners such as OneWeb to create sustainable ways to accelerate human progress. The partnership has the potential to transform the way governments, businesses and communities connect to the internet.”
Mr Mittal said: “This agreement will help realize our joint vision of boosting connectivity in Saudi Arabia, Middle-East and East Africa. It exemplifies the model through which OneWeb’s services will reach unconnected or poorly connected regions – through cooperation with international governments and local partners.”
Mr Masterson said: “This agreement represents OneWeb’s global vision to help bridge the digital divide through our innovative LEO satellite network. By working with NEOM Tech & Digital Hold Co., OneWeb will support the ambitions of NEOM, connecting businesses and communities and supporting the resilience of connectivity systems across the wider region.”
Currently, OneWeb uses the latest security protection employed in advanced mobile networks. NEOM Tech & Digital Hold Co. will be trialing technologies to provide further security protection as well as testing new, more robust and resistant positioning and navigation solutions.
The partnership supports NEOM Tech & Digital Hold Co.’s international connectivity strategy, which will use connections to sub-sea and terrestrial communications cables, the construction of 5G and fibre networks, and now LEO satellites to secure access to tens of terabytes of scalable capacity for both urban and rural businesses and communities in NEOM by 2030.