OneWeb satellites one step away from offering space-based internet services across the world

PTI, Mar 20, 2023, 10:06 AM IST

New Delhi: Bharti Enterprise-backed OneWeb is one step away from completing its constellation of over 600 low earth orbit satellites, paving the way to offer broadband internet services from space to every corner of the world.

OneWeb, a company backed by the British government, Bharti Enterprises, Eutelsat, SoftBank, Hughes Networks and Hanwha, has launched internet from space services in countries located above 50 degrees north latitude — Alaska, Canada, Greenland, UK and Northern Europe.

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM3) is set to launch 36 OneWeb satellites from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota on March 26, a move which will add to the United Kingdom-based company’s existing constellation of 582 satellites.

“We are one launch away from achieving global coverage. This last launch with ISRO/NSIL will mark over 600 satellites in space, which is the number needed to go commercially live,” a spokesperson of OneWeb told PTI.

NewsSpace India Limited (NSIL) is ISRO’s commercial arm which is also tasked to get rockets and satellites built through the industry for delivery of space services.

Weather permitted, ISRO’s LVM3 is set to place 36 OneWeb satellites into low earth orbit on March 26. This will be for the second time OneWeb is using ISRO’s satellite launch services. The first batch of 36 OneWeb satellites were launched from Sriharikota on October 23 last year.

The upcoming launch on board ISRO’s LVM3 will be the 18th launch for OneWeb. On March 9, SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket placed 40 OneWeb satellites in orbit.

“By the end of this year, we plan to initiate services across the globe,” the spokesperson said.

OneWeb plans to launch services in India later this year, subject to regulatory approvals and has already acquired the GMPCS (global mobile personal communications by satellite services) permit from the Department of Telecommunications as well as the nod to set up an earth station. “Other permissions are required to be taken from the Department of Space. We will have clarity on that once the space policy comes out,” Lt Gen A K Bhatt (retd), Director General, Indian Space Association (ISpA), the industry body for the space sector, told PTI.

Lt Gen Bhatt said the space policy was in the final stages of approval and was expected to be unveiled sometime this year.

“We are confident of the commencement of our services later this year for India and have announced distribution agreements with Hughes to provide services,” the OneWeb spokesperson said.

The approvals for private businesses that were earlier granted by ISRO will now have to be routed through the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (INSPACe), the single-window nodal agency for the private sector.

OneWeb is a wholesale provider of internet services through its constellation of satellites unlike the Starlink service offered by Elon Musk’s SpaceX directly to individual users.

“We offer our network services to telecommunications companies, Internet Service Providers, enterprises and governments to use our high-speed low latency service,” the spokesperson noted.

OneWeb had contacted ISRO for the launch of 72 satellites, reportedly at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore, after it had to scrap the arrangements with Russia’s Soyuz rockets following the Ukraine conflict.

OneWeb uses a constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to provide broadband internet access instead of the traditional method of using satellites placed in geo-stationary orbits (GEO) 36,000 kms above the equator.

LEO satellites placed in orbits ranging from 200 km to 1,500 km from earth – compared to 36,00 0km for GEO satellites — significantly increase the bandwidth and reduce latency in space to around 50-70 milliseconds (ms), a report by GSMA Intelligence, an industry body, said. Latency refers to the time taken by a data packet to be transmitted from a user to the internet service provider through the satellite network. The latency for GEO satellite networks is in the range of 500-700 ms, which limits their use to 2G and 3G communications.

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