OneWeb secures $1.25 billion for global satellite broadband network

Money talks and OneWeb is talking loud today. The company has successfully raised its largest capital round to date, securing $1.25 billion in new funding.  The round, lead by SoftBank, Group Salinas, Qualcomm, and the Government of Rwanda, enables the company to start mass production of its satellites for launching in quantity by the end of the year.

“With the recent successful launch of our first six satellites, near-completion of our innovative satellite manufacturing facility with our partner Airbus, progress towards fully securing our ITU priority spectrum position, and the signing of our first customer contracts, OneWeb is moving from the planning and development stage to deployment of our full constellation,” said Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb. “This latest funding round, our largest to date, makes OneWeb’s service inevitable and is a vote of confidence from our core investor base in our business model and the OneWeb value proposition. Our success is made possible thanks to the backing of our investors and the cooperation of our world class commercial partners including Arianespace, Airbus, Qualcomm Technologies Inc., Virgin, and Hughes.”

OneWeb has raised a total of $3.4 billion, with the latest round expected to cover the bulk of satellite production and launch of an initial 650 satellites by 2021 to deliver high speed, low latency broadband worldwide by 2021.  The funding comes following the company’s successful launch of its first six OneWeb satellites in February.  A dedicated factory outside of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is expected to crank out between 2 to 3 satellites per day, with the first groups of “more than 30” going up per launch starting in the fourth quarter of this year to reach 24×7 service. More satellites will be added to meet growing demands, with the company licensed to launch an additional 1,972 under its current FCC licenses.

The next challenge for OneWeb is to start marketing to raise its profile and securing channel partners to start signing up paying customers to generate revenue. While the company is positioning itself as providing global connectivity for all, initial customers are expected to come from aviation, maritime, cellular/broadband backhaul, and land mobility applications.

Another task facing the company is finding one or more hardware manufacturers to crank out affordable, easy-to-use ground terminal equipment.  OneWeb founder Greg Wyler has funded the Wafer company to build the “Holy Grail” of antennas for networks using multiple low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, while others such as Kymeta and Isotropic Systems are developing and building solutions as well.  Despite talk of building lower cost equipment for mass production, Kymeta has so far only announced and demonstrated gear in the $5,000 dollar range.  OneWeb is looking for a turnkey solution in the $250-$350 range, a price startups Wafer and Isotropic Systems plan to match.

Regardless, the funding and initial satellite launches last month put OneWeb ahead of various start-ups both of today and of yesteryear.  LeoSat and Telesat have yet to announcing founding rounds to build satellites and start launching their respective constellations, with Telesat expected to downselect to a satellite manufacturer in the next month or two. SpaceX’s timetable for its Starlink service is anyone’s guess. And 1990s-era Teledesic projected raising $9 billion or more to launch a LEO constellation of 288 satellites to provide broadband services, but closed up shop in 2002 after raising $1 billion.

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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