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01 Jul 2020

UK Government readies £500m investment into OneWeb satellite infrastructure

James Orme, Editor
UK Government readies £500m investment into OneWeb satellite infrastructure

UK keen to create national satellite navigation service using OneWeb infrastructure

The UK Government is ready to invest up to £500m for a 20 percent stake in OneWeb, the British satellite Internet company which filed for bankruptcy in March.

OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in the US after coronavirus halted its attempts to secure funding for a commercial launch.

According to reports in The Times and FT, the UK Government is keen to get its hands on the company’s low orbit satellites to fund a global satellite navigation system, after the UK  lost access to the European Union’s system, Galileo.

Galileo is an alternative to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s GLONASS. The UK invested into £1.2bn into the project but was excluded following Brexit.

Instead of spending billions developing its own system from scratch, the UK believes OneWeb’s infrastructure could provide a cost-effective launchpad for a rival navigation system and is forming a private consortium to fund a takeover.

According to reports, SpaceX, Amazon and three different Chinese consortia have also made bids for OneWeb.

OneWeb

Before filing for bankruptcy, OneWeb had secured billions in funding from investors such as Softbank, Qualcomm and the Government of Rwanda and had hoped to take its space-bound Internet service commercial before the end of next year.

The company had already launched 74 satellites, began development on user terminals for several markets, almost completed 44 ground stations and performed numerous demonstrations of its system’s capabilities.

OneWeb was in advanced negotiations for funding to support a commercial launch but said the financial impact of Covid-19 ended its hopes of securing the cash and that it was seeking a buyer.

Satellite Internet technology has garnered significant interest in recent years as a means of connecting areas of the globe to the Internet where it’s infeasible or uneconomical to use traditional fibre or cellular technologies.

Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon are among several tech companies attempting to use satellites to beam Internet to hard to reach rural areas.

With satellite Internet, latency is the main concern, not speed. OneWeb’s USP was low-orbit infrastructure that reduced latency and made its technology viable for commercial applications. The company had demonstrated speeds of 400Mbps and latency below 32 milliseconds.

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