OneWeb launches 36 satellites, paves way for fast broadband launch in India by mid-2022

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OneWeb launches 36 satellites, paves way for fast broadband launch in India by mid-2022

OneWeb, a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications operator co-owned by Bharti Global and the UK government, launched 36 satellites on Friday from the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia, paving the way for launching high-speed internet services in key global markets from late-2021, and in India by mid-2022.

“Today’s launch is one of many steps we have taken to operationalise one of the world’s first LEO constellations,” Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal, who was recently named OneWeb’s executive chairman, said in an official statement.

He added that OneWeb’s satellites system would meet existing and future demand by delivering “broadband connectivity to communities, towns, regions left unconnected or under-connected,” amid huge demand as the pandemic had taxed infrastructure everywhere and left many people worldwide with little to no options to access the internet.

OneWeb’s latest satellite launch from a Soyuz vehicle takes the in-orbit constellation to 110 satellites, which is part of its 648-strong LEO satellite fleet that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity. It has secured global priority spectrum rights and completed four launches.

Last month, Bharti Global MD Shravin Mittal, the UK-based son of Sunil Mittal, had told ET that OneWeb is open to entering India either directly or through a commercial partnership, involving either the JV route or a bandwidth capacity leasing pact, even as it gears up to launch fast broadband services in the country by June 2022.

At present, a foreign satellite operator cannot directly sell bandwidth capacity to users in India, without going through Antrix Corp, the marketing and commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

A consortium of the UK government and Bharti Global has invested $1 billion in new equity into OneWeb, which helped the satellite company recently emerge from US Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Bharti Global is the overseas arm of Bharti Enterprises — the holding company of Airtel, India’s second-largest telco.

OneWeb will start commercial connectivity services from late-2021 initially in the UK, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada. The OneWeb constellation will enable user terminals capable of offering 3G, 4G-LTE, 5G and Wi-Fi coverage, providing high-speed access globally − by air, sea and land.

Company officials said OneWeb is quickly returning to full operations, hiring at a fast pace, restarting launches, and continuing to build its ground station network, and pushing forward on user terminal development.

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