OneWeb announces Arctic high-speed Internet service for 2020

In a move sure to stir the competitive heart of Elon Musk and the patriotic strings of Telesat, OneWeb announced the details for “the fastest internet service in the Arctic and the first to provide full coverage to the region.” (The latter might be contested by Iridium, since it offers up to 1.5 Mbps broadband service globally today through its constellation of satellites).

OneWeb’s press release says the company will deliver 375 Gbps of capacity over the 60th parallel North, with service starting in 2020. More specifically, “substantial services” will start towards the end of 2020 – with the term undefined in the release – while full 24-hour coverage being provided by early 2021, supplying “unprecedented blanket coverage to every part of the Arctic Circle.”

“Connectivity is critical in our modern economy,” said U.S. Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski. “As the Arctic opens, ensuring the people of the Arctic have access to affordable and reliable broadband will make development safer, more sustainable and create new opportunities for the next generation leading in this dynamic region of the globe.”

About 48 percent of the Arctic doesn’t have broadband coverage, according to OneWeb, and is the home to millions of people and increasing economic activity due in part to climate change. Competition for energy and fishing, as well as other natural resources is expected to increase as the North Pole continues to thin out, not to mention increased shipping and national defense activities. Aircraft cross the Poll daily to speed passengers to their destinations around the globe while shippers hope to see an ice-free “Northwest Passage” route to dramatically reduce to the time.

OneWeb says it will deliver “fiber like” performance with low latency, citing tests results earlier this year of latencies under 40 milliseconds and several hundred megabits per second. CEO Greg Wyler believes gigabit speed delivery is possible with some fine tuning.

However, OneWeb isn’t alone in targeting northern latitudes for initial service offerings. SpaceX Starlink plans to offer service to Canada and the Northern United States after six launches, with at least two launches scheduled by the end of the year and the potential for fitting in two more depending on how things work out. With a couple of launches in the first half of 2020, SpaceX could be delivering service to that region by the fall of 2020 if not sooner, assuming Starlink has end-user equipment ready to go.

Telesat plans to start launching satellite in 2021 with global service available in 2022. If all three services stay on track and can sign up enough customers, the Great White North and the Arctic regions would become the Great Gigabit North by 2024.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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