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

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OneWeb aims to bridge the digital divide, providing internet service to remote and rural areas.

OneWeb representatives recently called on staff in the International Bureau’s Satellite Division at the FCC to reinforce previous comments filed with the commission and provide an update on OneWeb’s ambitious plans to launch a satellite constellation.

OneWeb emphasized the immediacy of its plans: In less than one year, it anticipates its first satellites will be in orbit and operational, according to an ex parte filing (PDF). The company expects these efforts to result in a constellation that will serve as a critical component of the FCC-led efforts to bridge the digital divide in the U.S.

By way of example, OneWeb said 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.

OneWeb explained that its first satellites are currently set to be launched in March 2018. These satellites will be manufactured at the OneWeb facility in Toulouse, France, where the final assembly line is being inaugurated next month. OneWeb’s second and third final assembly lines will be located at OneWeb’s new state-of-the-art satellite facility in Exploration Park, Florida, which is currently under construction.

RELATED: OneWeb breaks ground on new satellite facility, gears up for 5G

While the company wants to connect the under-served or unconnected around the world, it’s also going to be in a position to supply backhaul for millions of small cells that are part of the cellular industry’s densification plans leading up to and in 5G. OneWeb Founder and Executive Chairman Greg Wyler told FierceWirelessTech back in March that telecom operators are one of OneWeb’s primary customer bases and it has designed its systems to be fully compatible and integrated with cellular networks, including as they move to 5G. 

While Qualcomm is an investor in OneWeb, it’s also been working closely with OneWeb, supplying what the company considers a chipset that’s truly revolutionary for the satellite industry and very much a part of how it’s going to be able to make the whole system work affordably. Wyler has said previously that the hardest part of OneWeb’s system is done by Qualcomm on the chipset side.

During Mobile World Congress 2017, Intelsat and OneWeb announced their merger and a new cash infusion from SoftBank. The combined entity promises to deliver a robust technology roadmap for customers in wireless, mobility and government sectors, as well as media and enterprise segments.

Last week, Reuters reported that OneWeb increased its merger proposal for Intelsat by offering Intelsat's creditors a smaller discount for their bonds than it had before. Bondholders have until May 31 to decide whether to accept the new deal.