OneWeb is building an internet service powered by hundreds of satellites, thanks to funding from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Qualcomm.
OneWeb, formerly called WorldVu Satellites, wants rural and emerging markets to have access to internet service. Google desires the same thing and is working on Project Loon, with the hopes of delivering internet to hard-to-reach areas via balloons that can stay afloat for long periods of time. But instead of using sky-bound balloons, OneWeb, which controls a block of radio spectrum, is looking to space.
The company's planned internet service will be powered by a constellation of 648 satellites. Such a feat would allow not only rural areas to access the internet but also airlines, in partnership with mobile operators. Although OneWeb didn't disclose how much Virgin or Qualcomm invested, it's satellite-powered internet service will cost nearly $2 billion to launch and should deliver a lot of data to users (with billing via telecom carriers).
Both Branson and Paul Jacobs, the executive chairman of Qualcomm, will also join OneWeb’s board. Virgin Group, which operates the Virgin Galactic commercial spaceflight company as well as airline and mobile businesses, will even help launch the satellites through its LauncherOne program. A single satellite weighs 285 pounds and is designed to pipe fast service and operate in a low orbit about 750 miles above the Earth.
Keep in mind the internet service still faces financial, regulatory, and technical challenges, according to The Wall Street Journal, which interviewed Greg Wyler, OneWeb's cofounder. Wyler's last satellite company, called 03b Networks, for instance, started in 2008 but took six years to launch. He has since left the company, which is aiming for $100 million in revenue in 2015, though he remains a shareholder.
Wyler believes each of OneWeb's satellites will cost $350,000 to build using an assembly-line method, but the company still needs to secure a manufacturing partner and is supposedly in talks with several options. It was initially speculated that Elon Musk, the chief of Tesla and SpaceX, would partner with OneWeb, but Wyler wouldn't confirm that information.
Musk admitted to Bloomberg recently that SpaceX is opening an engineering office in Seattle to develop and launch satellites.