OneWeb’s plans for digital access may run into hurdles

  • M Rajendran, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 01, 2015 08:42 IST

OneWeb’s plans to use satellites for digital connectivity and provide affordable internet access to all will have to address a few challenges that have earlier plagued such ventures.

OneWeb is a group of firms, including Airbus Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Grupo Salinas, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Qualcomm Incorporated and Virgin Group. Bharti Enterprises has also acquired a strategic minority stake in OneWeb. The companies have pledged $500 million collectively.

OneWeb, which plans to start services by 2019, is looking to build a communications network with an initial constellation of 648 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. LEOs are satellite systems used in telecommunication, which orbit between 400 and 1,000 miles above the earth’s surface. They are used mainly for data communication such as email, video conferencing and paging.

Similar experiments with LEOs by Iridium, Globalstar and Inmarsat have run into technical and financial difficulties in the past. Globalstar, which also had Qualcomm and Vodafone on board, filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. Iridium and Inmarsat are struggling to find users due to high tariff and security issues.

However, a company spokesperson said, "Inmarsat has never run into financial difficulties and remains a financially robust company. We do not have any LEO satellites.”

OneWeb will have to resolve issues, including safety and security in offering internet services.

However, technical experts both in the IT ministry and Bharti Airtel said similar security challenges are also encountered in terrestrial or wireless systems that are currently used globally.

OneWeb’s system will offer 10 terabits per second of new capacity, for mobile operators and Internet service providers (ISPs) to serve new coverage areas.

However, a few competitors, including Google, have also floated projects to provide mobile connections using hot air balloons, which will create a web of floating towers. Google’s other project, Titan, aims to offer mobile connectivity using solarpowered gliders.

“Access to affordable highspeed Internet is a powerful tool for economic development and empowerment of populations. OneWeb will accelerate the journey towards building a digitally inclusive world,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman, Bharti Enterprises.

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