ANGELES — It’s been more than a decade since a
handful of ambitious entrepreneurs saw their plans to
provide global telecommunications service through
massive satellite constellations blow up, doomed by
a new generation of satellite entrepreneurs is headed
back to the launch pad. Backed by billions of dollars
from deep-pocketed investors, they plan to blanket the
earth in the next few years with perhaps thousands of
miniature satellites beaming cheap, ubiquitous broadband
different? Launching one of these smaller satellites can
cost a fraction of the price for a larger,
school-bus-sized satellite. These new satellites will
largely be mass-produced. And consumers now demand
high-speed internet connectivity pretty much everywhere,
on airplanes, cruise ships and in the remotest village
such as SpaceX, OneWeb and Boeing have all recently
proposed networks of satellites in low-Earth orbit to
provide high-speed broadband access around the globe.
Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has
aspirations to bring internet to poorly connected areas
— a plan that was derailed in September after a
satellite set to beam high-speed service to areas
including sub-Saharan Africa was destroyed in the
explosion of a SpaceX rocket on a Florida launch pad.
this latest wave of satellite networks gets off the
ground, it could pose a challenge to a $224.6 billion
industry currently dominated by telecom and cable
companies with their miles of fiber optic and copper
going to shake up how these operators are controlling
different regions, and it’s going to allow the
consumer a little more of an option," said Taylor
Palmer, industry analyst at market research firm
mid-December, the Arlington, Va.-based OneWeb said it
secured $1.2 billion of funded capital in a round led by
Japanese technology giant SoftBank Group Corp., which
contributed $1 billion of the total.
money will fund construction of a Florida satellite
manufacturing plant, which is set to start production in
is just one addition to OneWeb’s list of big-name
investors, which includes Qualcomm Inc., Airbus Group,
the Coca-Cola Co. and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
of the main challenges is raising financing from
investors, so this proves they are able to continue
doing that and they’re still attracting money from
these big, established companies," said Bill
Ostrove, aerospace and defense analyst at market
research firm Forecast International. "That’s
going to be really vital."
broadband service is still tiny. It generated revenues
of $1.9 billion in 2015, according to a June report from
the Tauri Group that was commissioned by the Satellite
Industry Association trade group. That compares with
$97.8 billion for satellite television.
interest in satellite broadband is growing as consumers
expect high-speed service in places that aren’t always
well-served by fiber or cable.
month, Southwest Airlines said it planned to equip its
entire fleet of more than 700 planes with WiFi.
a competitive advantage for those that have that service
available," said Tom Stroup, president of the
Satellite Industry Association. "Broadband has
essentially become an expected fact of life."
say satellite constellations could have the biggest
effect in remote areas.
2014, almost half of the world’s population lived in
rural regions, which are largely unconnected to the
internet, according to a report from ITU, a special
agency of the United Nations that handles information
and communication technologies.
access is fundamental for understanding of culture,
cultural differences, civic understanding and
participation," said Greg Wyler, founder and
executive chairman of OneWeb. "It helps make the
unconnected economically relevant to the developed
world. When they’re economically relevant, we pay a
lot more attention to them."
company has an ambitious timeline. It plans to launch
the first 10 satellites into low-Earth orbit in early
2018 to test their capabilities. More launches will
follow, with its broadband access beginning as early as
2022, OneWeb says it will connect every unconnected
school to the internet. Eventually, OneWeb plans a
satellite manufacturing facility in Exploration Park,
Fla., is key to these plans. The company will mass
produce its micro-satellites with automated assembly
capabilities similar to those used in aircraft
production facilities, eventually making three a day.
has said the satellites will weigh about 330 pounds.
based outside Los Angeles, plans to eventually launch
more than 4,000 satellites for its network. Each
satellite would be about 13 feet long and 6 feet wide,
with 19-foot-long solar arrays.
2015, the company received a $1 billion infusion from
Google Inc. and Fidelity Investments and opened an
office in Redmond, Wash., near Seattle, to focus on
developing the small satellites. SpaceX Chief Executive
Elon Musk has said the whole constellation could cost
$10 billion to $15 billion.
launching an initial 800 satellites, SpaceX said it
could provide broadband coverage to the U.S., Puerto
Rico and the Virgin Islands. By its final deployment,
the company said it "will pass over virtually all
parts of the Earth’s surface."
proposed 2,900-satellite constellation is intended to
provide broadband access to both commercial and
government users worldwide. The aerospace giant said it
planned to launch more than 1,300 satellites within six
years of the license approval.
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satellite swarms are made possible by advances in
miniaturized parts and microprocessors. They could also
help shrink the price gap between satellite and
terrestrial broadband access, said Palmer of IBISWorld.
the past, satellite broadband was hampered by slower
data transfer based on the long distance from Earth —
a problem the companies hope to solve by putting their
satellites in low-Earth orbit. They will also launch
extra satellites to ensure coverage if a few break down.
they’re really able to optimize the production … and
get it out at a cost-per-unit measurement that makes
sense for a household … then it really could expand
satellite broadband into a major competitor for some of
these terrestrial companies," Palmer said.
first the satellite systems must get approval from the
FCC to use specific airwaves. And mobile broadband
providers have fought back when proposals for certain
frequencies have overlapped with their own plans.
satellite ventures may be able to lean on their powerful
investors. Several of OneWeb’s backers have ties to
the wireless industry, including SoftBank, which has a
controlling stake in Sprint Corp., and Sunil Bharti
Mittal, founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises, a
business group that includes leading Indian
telecommunications company Bharti Airtel Ltd.
insists OneWeb will be a partner with the Earth-bound
networks, serving as an extension of current networks.
OneWeb’s business model is to sell the broadband
connectivity and capacity on its satellites to
not competing at all," Wyler said. "These are
areas (where) the current broadband infrastructure are
not designed to provide services."
some cases, he said cellular operators might be able to
put a tower in a rural area, but the location is too
remote to lay cables or fiber to provide internet
service. That’s where OneWeb could step in and beam
service to the tower, Wyler said.
an expanding market for broadband probably can
accommodate both technologies, said Ostrove of Forecast
think it’s just going to be another way … for the
end user to get that service," he said.