Startup OneWeb announced that it raised a whopping $1.25 billion to help fund its ambitious plan to launch hundreds of low-orbit satellites. The company plans to use those satellites to blast high-speed Internet services everywhere.
OneWeb's latest round of funding comes from SoftBank, Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm and the Government of Rwanda. Previous investors in the company include Virgin Group, Coca-Cola and Airbus.
The funding round brings OneWeb's total financing warchest to $3.4 billion. The company's most recent funding round also comes just a month after OneWeb successfully launched six satellites into orbit. (See OneWeb Raises $1.2B From SoftBank, Others.)
So, what will the company do with all of its new financing? OneWeb plans to launch up to 650 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites by 2021 to deliver "deliver high speed, low latency, seamless broadband access, everywhere on Earth." The satellites will orbit 750 miles above the planet -- much higher than the 20,000-mile orbit that most satellites use.
Although the company didn't immediately provide details on exactly how its satellite network would perform, OneWeb said its high-speed, low-latency services could be applied to verticals including aviation, backcountry travel, maritime uses and backhaul for telecom networks.
"OneWeb's potential is undeniable as the growth in data from 5G, IoT, autonomous driving and other new technologies drives demand for capacity above and beyond the limits of the existing infrastructure," said Marcelo Claure, COO of SoftBank Group and CEO of SoftBank Group International, in a release from the company. Claure is the former chief executive of US mobile network operator Sprint.
OneWeb says customers will be able to access the company's services via inexpensive user terminals that will support "high-speed connectivity with no change in latency during satellite handovers to ensure excellent voice quality, gaming and web experience."
"The most overlooked yet critical component for satellite systems to help bridge the digital divide are ground antennas. I have had a team quietly working on this problem for years. 503 versions later we got it. Meet the new $15 fully steerable low power flat panel," tweeted OneWeb founder Greg Wyler earlier this year.
OneWeb's services will use the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) frequency bands, which the company said makes use of the 7GHz of spectrum that the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) opened in 1997. Wyler told Bloomberg that OneWeb activated its systems in time to maintain rights to spectrum.
But perhaps OneWeb's real claim to fame is its production capabilities. As noted by Bloomberg, OneWeb now operates a satellite production factory in Florida in partnership with Airbus. The facility will need to build two of OneWeb's washing machine-sized satellites per day to keep pace with the company's plans. Starting around October, OneWeb hopes to launch up to 30 or so satellites every month as it works toward its goal of lofting 650 satellites into orbit.
However, OneWeb faces significant challenges on the satellite communications front. Competing with the company in the LEO sector are Elon Musk's SpaceX, Telesat and LeoSat. And of course established satellite providers like ViaSat, Intelsat and Iridium are also on the field. (See LeoSat CEO Envisions a High-Capacity, Low-Latency Backbone... in Space!)
But SoftBank's Claure argued that OneWeb's new funding round helps put the company's into a leading position. "OneWeb has extended its first-mover advantage and is on track to become the world's largest and first truly global communications network," he said.