OneWeb gets FCC approval for 720 low-Earth orbit satellites to offer global internet services

Greg Wyler
Greg Wyler. Image: OneWeb

During its monthly open meeting today, the FCC said it approved OneWeb’s request to deploy a global network of 720 low-Earth orbit satellites using the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) frequency bands “to provide global Internet connectivity.”

“The Order and Declaratory Ruling adopted today outlines the conditions under which OneWeb will be permitted to provide service using its proposed NGSO FSS satellite constellation in the United States.  As such, this FCC action provides a blueprint for the earth station licenses that OneWeb, or its partners, will need to obtain before providing OneWeb’s proposed service in the United States,” the FCC said in a release.

As the agency noted, OneWeb was the first of several entities to file a request seeking FCC approval to deploy low-Earth orbit satellites for broadband services. “The FCC is currently examining additional applications for the operation of NGSO FSS constellations, most of which include large numbers of satellites,” the agency said. “With today’s action, the Commission facilitates greater broadband offerings and competition in the United States.”

OneWeb is the third major venture from engineer and entrepreneur Greg Wyler, who has been working to connect the unconnected in Africa and elsewhere for almost two decades. Although other tech titans like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk have discussed the possibility of global, satellite-powered internet, Wyler’s OneWeb boasts almost $2 billion in funding from the likes of Qualcomm, Bharti, Coca Cola, Hughes, Virgin Group and Japan’s SoftBank.

Importantly, the FCC noted that OneWeb’s satellite system will be authorized by the United Kingdom.

According to OneWeb majority owner SoftBank, the company will eventually provide inexpensive internet to up to 1 billion subscribers worldwide via download speeds of up to 200 Mbps, upload speeds of up to 50 Mbps and lower latency that existing services.

Indeed, OneWeb recently said that, in less than one year, it anticipates its first satellites will be in orbit and operational. And that, starting in 2019, it will enable high-speed access for all of Alaska where homes, tribal health centers and tens of thousands of residents are without adequate broadband access. Within its first two years of service, OneWeb plans to make significant progress toward closing the digital divide in the U.S.

Related: OneWeb on track for its first satellites to be operational in under a year

However, OneWeb has faced setbacks. The company’s proposed merger with Intelsat collapsed, though SoftBank is now reportedly eyeing a similar transaction with Inmarsat and other satellite companies.