Reports suggest the low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite telecommunications firm has closed its Alaskan test site, with locals bemoaning its services as expensive and unreliable
This week, a report from the Telegraph indicates that UK-backed satellite operator OneWeb has closed its vaunted test site in the village of Akiak, Alaska, following complaints from the Alaska Telecom Association (ATA) and local internet providers.
Akiak was one of OneWeb’s first test sites and was notable for being a keystone the company’s marketing campaign, designed to show that the LEO satellite constellation could provide internet services to one of the most remote communities in the US.
Less than a year since activation, however, and it would seem that the test site is failing to live up to expectations.
According to sources, the ATA and local providers have written to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complain that the “service is too costly to adopt” and had been discontinued “due to ongoing technical difficulties”.
The nature of these technical troubles has not been revealed.
While this closure is surely something of a blow to OneWeb’s image, given Akiak’s prominence in its marketing campaign, the material impact to the company is likely small. While OneWeb has significant ambitions in the consumer broadband segment, its focus to date has been largely centralised on government, maritime, and enterprise broadband needs.
Furthermore, according to the operator, other rural Alaskan test site are still up and running with positive results, perhaps suggesting that the Akiak site is simply an anomaly.
Nonetheless, such a closure has shone a worrying light on the challenges OneWeb may eventually face in the consumer space, particularly given the meteoric rise of rival SpaceX’s Starlink constellation in the US and beyond.
Starlink launched commercial services to consumers in Alaska in November last year and is seemingly gaining a growing market share in remote locations. The service already covers Akiak and has reportedly been well received by residents.
In a somewhat ironic twist, after OneWeb’s loss of access to Russian Soyuz rockets last year due to the war in Ukraine, SpaceX has been contracted to launch OneWeb satellites. This week marked the companies latest launch collaboration, which saw SpaceX put an additional 40 OneWeb satellites into orbit.
In total, OneWeb now has 502 LEO satellites floating above the Earth, having said they will require 648 for full global coverage. The operator expects its constellation to be fully launched by the end of the year.
What role will satellite play in expanding broadband access to the most remote US communities? Join the telecoms experts in discussion at this year’s upcoming Connected America conference
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