The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved United States satellite market access to OneWeb. Officially known as WorldVu Satellites Limited, OneWeb plans to use that approval to provide broadband services using a network of hundreds of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).
Specifically, the approval grants OneWeb the right to operate up to 720 satellites in LEO using Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) frequency bands to provide global Internet connectivity. OneWeb formed a joint venture with Airbus Defence and Space to manufacture the satellites in Florida. OneWeb also contracted with Arianespace and Virgin Orbit to carry their satellites into orbit. Deliveries are expected to begin in 2018.
The overall system is based in the U.K., and will require U.K. government approval to begin operations. FCC approval will allow the company to sell services in the U.S. According to the FCC, approval is required to ensure the satellite constellation does not cause interference to other users of the same spectrum. The agency also wants to minimize the risk of in-orbit collision between a OneWeb satellite and other satellites.
OneWeb is one of many companies proposing to build large networks of small satellites to provide global broadband Internet coverage. LeoSat, Boeing, and SpaceX are only a few of OneWeb’s potential competitors. In a statement, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly raises a number of questions regarding the viability of these satellite operators and their new business plans. In the late 1990s, companies like Teledesic also proposed building large networks of satellites to provide Internet coverage, but were not able to overcome technical and financial obstacles. Commissioner O’Rielly also calls for a wider conversation about spectrum needs, so there is an organized plan to ensure that the needs of terrestrial, LEO satellite operators, and geosynchronous satellite operators are met.
Still, OneWeb itself is well funded, having raised $2 billion since its founding, and has already signed manufacturing and launch contracts, placing the company in a strong position to succeed, despite the high risks associated with new markets.
In addition, there is a strong need for new ways to deliver broadband Internet access. During a recent Congressional hearing Representative Brad Schneider (D-Il) said that 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high speed broadband Internet. FCC Chairman Mignon Clyburn expressed optimism that LEO satellite constellations will be able to provide the Internet connections that are needed in rural communities.
If OneWeb’s competitors do continue developing their constellations, they will find a friendly FCC. Chairman Ajit Pai expressed his belief that competition in any sector encourages development and is good for consumers. To that end, he intends to support other satellite operators’ requests to operate in the U.S. In granting permission to OneWeb, the FCC even made sure that OneWeb will need to accommodate interference avoidance efforts and spectrum sharing with other non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) operators in the future.
Image Source: OneWeb