OneWeb launches 34 more satellites in mission to close digital divide

OneWeb announced on Saturday the successful launch of 34 more satellites, the second batch in six weeks, a pace the company attributes to a high-volume production factory in Florida.

This past weekend’s launch, which took place from Kazakhstan, brings the total number of satellites in the constellation to 74. The company has plans for more than 600 satellites in its initial constellation.

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The company said the current global health and economic crisis underscores the need and demand for connectivity, especially for rural and under-connected communities worldwide. Its target markets include aviation and maritime, and it's also working with carriers to provide services in rural and remote areas.

“In these unprecedented times following the global outbreak of COVID-19, people around the world find themselves trying to continue their lives and work online. We see the need for OneWeb greater now more than ever before,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said in a statement. “High-quality connectivity is the lifeline to enabling people to work, continue their education, stay up to date on important healthcare information and stay meaningfully connected to one another.”

He added that the crisis has demonstrated “the imperative need for connectivity everywhere,” and has exposed urgent shortcomings in many organizations’ connectivity capabilities. “Our satellite network is poised to fill in many of these critical gaps in the global communications infrastructure,” he said.

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Of course, the economic disaster as a result of the virus will impact the company’s ability to supply those connections. A OneWeb spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry from FierceWireless, but the company in a statement provided to TechCrunch last week suggested that delays in the launch schedule and satellite manufacturing are inevitable. The statement didn’t say how many jobs were cut, but confirmed some were eliminated.

That came after Bloomberg on Thursday reported that OneWeb, which is backed by SoftBank Group, was mulling a possible bankruptcy filing to address its cash crunch. The report noted that if that were to happen, OneWeb would be among the first SoftBank-backed companies to file for bankruptcy. 

Before Saturday’s launch, the company said its first customer demonstrations are scheduled for the end of 2020, with availability of commercial services—for sectors such as maritime, aviation, government and enterprise—scheduled for the end of 2021.