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UK government backslapping audible from space after BT strikes OneWeb deal

BT has announced it will use OneWeb’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network to one day offer connectivity services to consumers and businesses both at home and abroad.

OneWeb currently has 288 satellites in space, meaning capacity is limited. So for now, BT wants to see how it could be used as a supplementary, low-latency backhaul connection for sites where additional capacity or redundancy might be required.

It plans to kick things off by testing OneWeb’s capabilities at its lab in Bristol to see what is involved with integrating a third-party satellite broadband network with its own terrestrial networks and services. If all goes well, BT expects to begin live trials with select UK and international customers early next year.

OneWeb plans to expand its constellation to 648 satellites by next June, which will enable it to offer global coverage. As that capacity and coverage increases, so will the number of potential use cases for BT.

“Space is an emerging and enormous digital opportunity, and this is an important step towards harnessing its potential for BT’s customers across the globe,” said BT CEO Philip Jansen, in a statement. “Delivered securely and at scale, satellite solutions will be an important part of our plans to expand connectivity throughout the UK and globally, and to further diversify the range of services we can offer.”

Tuesday’s deal is yet another feather in OneWeb’s increasingly-feathery cap. In September, US telco giant AT&T struck a deal to use OneWeb’s network to offer connectivity to business customers in remote areas. Last month, Eutelset exercised a call option that saw it plough another $165 million into OneWeb, increasing its stake to 22.9 percent from 17.6 percent.

“We are delighted as this agreement with BT Group represents an important strategic partnership for OneWeb as we continue to make progress towards our operational launch,” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson.

“We are excited to be playing such a key role in improving the resilience of the overall telecom infrastructure in the UK. OneWeb’s connectivity platform will help bridge the last digital divides across the country and enhance the nation’s digital infrastructure,” he said.

It represents quite a turnaround for a company that nearly went under. Unsurprisingly, government ministers were in full-throated praise of themselves, since they were the ones who helped to rescue OneWeb, and now it has gone and done a deal with none other than an incumbent operator in their own back yard.

“I’m delighted these two British companies have joined forces to research the technological benefits of working together, and I look forward to exploring how this could play a role in our mission to put hard-to-reach areas in the digital fast lane,” said digital secretary Nadine Dorries.

“I am thrilled to see the UK at the forefront of this emerging technology thanks to the government’s investment in OneWeb,” added business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who went further by saying that it forms “a crucial part of our plans to cement our status as a global science and technology superpower.”

Hmm. Some backslapping is certainly merited. But only some.

Let’s not forget that when the government said in July 2020 it would spend £400 million of taxpayers’ money as part of a consortium to bail out OneWeb, there were some in Westminster who thought they were buying a potential replacement for the EU’s Galileo sat-nav system.

Granted it is a fairly techy subject, but when you’re not 100 percent sure about the difference between satellites that stay still and satellites that move about – but then go and spend £400 million on them anyway – using phrases like “global science and technology superpower” is perhaps a bit of a stretch.


3 comments

  1. Avatar Andrew Somerville 02/11/2021 @ 9:53 pm

    It looks like you also don’t know the difference between ‘satellites that stay still’ and ‘satellites that move about’ . Of course all satellites move about – or they would fall to earth. However if ‘satellites that stay still’ is another way of saying ‘satellites that always appear in the same position in the sky’ i.e. those that are located in a 36,000km geostationary orbit, then this applies neither to Oneweb nor Galileo. Operational Galileo satellites orbit at a height of 23,000km, circling the earth every 14 hours. OneWeb is in low earth orbit at around 1200km.

  2. Avatar Simon Baggs 06/11/2021 @ 7:08 pm

    Not too sure this chap knows what he is talking about. I don’t remember the Government ever saying this was to replace Galileo. That was what commentators speculated. Also there are 358 satellites in orbit, not 288.

  3. Avatar Ignorant (and loving it)) John 08/11/2021 @ 4:15 pm

    Who knows
    It’ll be a different story tomorrow, just as it was yesterday.
    How is a layperson expected to know and why should they care?

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