OneWeb Intellian user terminal comparison (Source: OneWeb)

OneWeb talks satellite broadband speeds, constellation configs

As OneWeb continues to spin up a variety of marketing efforts, including a big media event built around its first full-scale launch for its 650 satellite first generation broadband constellation, the company is becoming more open about the capabilities and details surrounding how it will deliver services on a global basis.

“We’re super excited on where we are, what we have behind us,” OneWeb Chief Systems Engineer Carmel Ortiz said. “The system is performing better than expected. We did a demo last summer, we’re doing [over the air], gateways and terminals, it’s really exciting time to see all of this coming to fruition, after seeing it on paper for so long.”

“Our particular terminal technology will deliver up to 200 Mbps in forward broadband,” Ortiz stated. “It’s not a satellite limitation. We can do up to 400 Mbps and we think we can go higher than that.”

Ortiz said uplink rates would be asymmetrical at a ratio of 4 to 1, with initial maximum uplink speeds of 50 Mbps. OneWeb has a road map to higher speeds “if the market would support it” with increasing data rates available through various software and network configuration changes. CEO Greg Wyler suggested via Tweet the current system may be able to be support up to gigabit end-user terminal speeds with the appropriate adjustments.

The company first must launch and bring into service around 650 satellites, with the first launch of over 30 satellites scheduled to take place in December 2019, with launches occurring on a monthly basis until the entire constellation is in space and in the proper orbits. Initially OneWeb planned to distribute satellites into 18 orbital planes with 49 satellites per plane for a total of around 882 satellites in orbit, but initial qualifications showed the hardware was much more capable than expected. OneWeb was able to cut a third of the orbital planes necessary for global coverage, leading to today’s configuration of 12 orbital planes with 49 satellites, leading to 588 operational satellites plus on-orbit spares.

Distributing the satellites into the appropriate planes has resulted in a “complicated deployment plan,” said Ortiz. Early launches will be able to drop all their satellites into a single plane while later missions will have to distributed satellites between multiple planes to fill each plane with 49, with satellites drifting into their proper positions.

First generation OneWeb satellites are being qualified to last a minimum of 7 years with enough engineering margin built in that may make it possible to operate up to 9 years if there’s enough fuel onboard. Unlike LEO satellite networks projects either in flux or on the drawing board, OneWeb decided not to include intersatellite links in its first-generation network due to cost and schedule reasons.

“We wanted to make sure to get initial system up and launched,” Ortiz said. “For the phase 2 system, we’re absolutely looking at different architectures, including intersatellite links. We’re looking at both optical and RF.”

Through FCC filing and Congressional testimony, OneWeb has indicated it has a roadmap for up to three generations of satellites, with the ultimately goal to support up to 1 billion customers around the world by 2025.

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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