OneWeb aims to capitalize on telco, government connections

OneWeb LEO constellation
OneWeb's CEO said he believes the company can help operators supplement global coverage at the right price point. (OneWeb)

OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson expressed confidence its ability to tap the expertise of a high-profile group of investors would give it a leg up in an increasingly competitive satellite market, smoothing the company’s path as it pursues commercial deals with operators and governments.

Since July 2020, OneWeb raised a total of $1.4 billion from the UK government, India’s Bharti Global, Japan’s SoftBank Group and satellite service provider Hughes Network Systems.

Speaking at the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum, Masterson said all four of these investors provide access to “global capabilities that are really helpful” as it targets gains in the enterprise, government, maritime and aviation markets.

“Everyone understands that market access and regulations are absolutely critical to being successful in this industry,” he said, noting the UK government’s backing would be key to expanding its footprint. He added that as a company targeting the government sector “it’s really helpful if you can have a government telling you what you need to do from a security perspective and how best to work with” those types of customers.

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In addition to expertise in execution, scale and pacing, Masterson said Bharti’s involvement offered “the ability for us to reach into any telco in the world,” providing an advantage in addressing another key market.

Business model

Though conversations with customers remain ongoing, Masterson said OneWeb was surprised by the variety of use cases on the table, stating these included community broadband, corporate Wi-Fi, backhaul, and emergency and redundant connectivity.

He said as far as telcos and broadband are concerned the company is pursuing a B2B2C play, with the idea being to supplement rather than supplant existing coverage.

OneWeb believes the best way to meet end user needs “is actually via the existing industry, the telcos and service providers and so forth, not least because I think that’s how you maximize your footprint across those users,” he said.

Masterson noted the company’s recent bankruptcy proceeding helped it slash capital costs, allowing it to bring down the cost of capacity to a level “much lower than it was beforehand.” This in turn put it in better position to meet the price points operators are targeting in their markets.

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“We believe we can help them meet those goals of serving needs, of serving communities within the price points existent in those end markets,” he said, adding this held across North America, Northern Europe, India and Africa.

Next steps

In terms of commercial pairings, Masterson said OneWeb is seeing a lot of momentum and has deals “on the bubble” across the Northern and Southern hemispheres, the Indian subcontinent and Africa.

The CEO noted OneWeb still needs to raise an additional $1 billion to fully complete its first generation satellite constellation and provide global coverage by the end of 2022, but expressed confidence it would meet that target.

In the meantime, it plans to execute three more launches before the end of June, with the aim of deploying coverage in the Arctic. It will begin trialing service with Alaska-based broadband provider Pacific Dataport Inc (known as PDI) in June, he said.

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Masterson pointed to delivery of reasonably priced user equipment as another key part of its plan, noting compact user terminals currently under development will initially costs about the same as an iPhone.

“Our goal there is to bring the price down further below that,” he said. “The lower the user terminal price, the broader the market opportunity.”

In March, OneWeb contracted Intellian to supply end compact terminals, with these set to be unveiled later in 2021 and available in 2022.