Starlink competitor OneWeb to offer satellite broadband next year

The new head of the troubled SpaceX rival says it's running just about a year behind Elon Musk.

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Eric Mack
2 min read

A Soyuz rocket prepares to launch 34 OneWeb satellites from Kazakhstan.


Elon Musk and SpaceX are beaming Starlink broadband from low-Earth orbit into the homes of beta testers in Canada and the northern US right now, and troubled competitor OneWeb says it won't be far behind. 

At one point years ago, Musk was working closely with OneWeb, when it was going by the name of WorldVu, before opting to blaze his own trail with Starlink. OneWeb would go on to secure funding from Richard Branson's Virgin Group, SoftBank, Airbus and Qualcomm, among others, and finally began launching batches of satellites to build its 648-bird constellation in early 2020.

But after just a few launches and just 74 total satellites, the coronavirus pandemic hit and, in March, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy. Enter a new ownership group led by Indian conglomerate Bharti Enterprises and the British government, which both own equal stakes in the venture.

With OneWeb now reemerging, Bharti founder Sunil Mittal pledged that the company will be able to make up ground in the coming months. 

"[OneWeb] will be up and running for 50 degrees north by late quarter of next year. Therefore by October-November of 2021 we will have most of Northern Europe, Alaska, the polars covered," Mittal said Wednesday during a livestreamed keynote talk organized by the International Telecommunication Union. "By May-June of 2022, which is less than 18 months, OneWeb's constellation will cover the entire globe, every square inch of this world."

If that timeline works out, it would put OneWeb almost exactly one year behind Starlink, which began serving northern latitudes with its "Better Than Nothing" beta earlier this year.

OneWeb is set to launch its first batch of satellites under the new ownership later this month on a Russian Soyuz rocket that's scheduled to blast off on Dec. 17.

Watch this: Starlink space-based internet, explained