OneWeb CEO: We are solving the rural connectivity problem

Getting broadband access to rural and remote areas of the United States and elsewhere around the world has been a challenge for mobile operators for years. With few potential customers, they have little financial incentive to cover these types of geographies.

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OneWeb's terminals can be self-installed. (Image source: OneWeb)

But the founder of OneWeb, Greg Wyler, says he and his team have come up with a way to solve the problem in a way that makes economic sense for mobile operators using small-cell-like terminals.

Wyler, who will be a featured speaker at the Satellite 2015 conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, is expected to show a prototype of a user terminal on stage during the event. OneWeb is the satellite venture with backing from Qualcomm and Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Eventually, it plans to deploy more than 650 satellites.

But first, even before it gets to those satellites, Wyler explained to FierceWirelessTech that a lot of other things have to happen. "Think of OneWeb as a global communications provider that happens to use satellites," he said. "We are solving the rural connectivity problem by creating an easy on-ramp" to the Internet by using devices they already have, substantially reducing the barriers to getting online.

Today, the technologies that are available to mobile operators work well in high-population areas with high GDP, but the trick is to bring the Internet to areas that have few people, most of whom have little income. OneWeb is talking about offering speeds of 10 terabits per second to remote areas around the world.

OneWeb's terminals will have LTE, 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi capabilities--essentially, they will use whatever technology the carrier chooses. "Think of our terminals as small cells with integrated backhaul," Wyler said. Latency plays a big part in this. "Because our system is so low latency, less than 30 milliseconds, it's transparent to an LTE network" between the MME and the eNodeB, he said.

The terminal is so easy to install and affordable--targeting a $250 price point--that OneWeb believes it can enable connectivity for everyone. At the satellite conference, Wyler is expected to show a solar-powered terminal that can be self-installed. The engineers designed it so it could be installed in a school in the most rural community in the world and provide broadband service for students.

The terminal could be used on aircraft, cars or boats. A key factor is that it's designed in Ku spectrum, which is very robust against elements such as rain; its lower frequency makes it inherently easier to design antennas that work with the terminals.

In 2012 OneWeb acquired the ITU spectrum rights based on its own design using a technique called "Progressive Pitch," a patent-pending methodology that maximizes throughput while not interfering with GEO satellites. It would not have been allowed to use the spectrum if it interfered with GEO satellite services, Wyler said.

Both Branson and Qualcomm Executive Chairman CEO Paul Jacobs have a strong vision for the mission, Wyler said. Having them all aligned on a central mission is a key part of the project. "We are a mission-driven company," he said. "We want to accomplish that goal" of enabling affordable Internet access for everyone.

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