The UK-based low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite operator has been granted a 15-year licence to provide connectivity services throughout Brazil

This week, Brazil’s national communications regulator Agência Nacional de Telecomunicações (Anatel) has awarded OneWeb a licence to provide connectivity services in Brazil, saying that the move will greatly help to reduce the digital divide and bring connectivity to rural communities.

As part of the agreement, OneWeb has also agreed to build two satellite gateways in Brazil, in Petrolina and Maricá, from which the company will be able to expand its services across South America and the Caribbean. 

“OneWeb’s entry into the Brazilian market is a significant milestone for our path to providing global services. With the historic license approval from Anatel, and our planned satellite gateways in Petrolina and Maricá, we are now in prime position to deliver on our central mission of improved access to connectivity for communities across the whole of South America,” explained Sunil Bharti Mittal, OneWeb’s executive chairman and founder of Bharti Enterprises, OneWeb’s largest shareholder. 

OneWeb has previously indicated that it will operate on a purely wholesale model, so Brazilian telcos and businesses will need to strike deals with the satellite player in order to utilise its services. Currently OneWeb has around 20 customers globally, including BT, AT&T, Airbus, and Telefonica.

The satellite operator currently has around 428 satellites in orbit, allowing it to provide services above the 50th Parallel North (essentially, Northern Europe and Canada). In total, 648 satellites are ultimately planned to allow for global coverage, but the company has run into launch issues this year, with Russia denying the company access to its Soyuz launch aircraft due to the invasion of Ukraine and OneWeb’s ties to the British government. 

Since then, the company has struck launch agreements with New Space India, with the next batch of satellites due to be put into orbit later this year. 

OneWeb will not be alone when it comes to LEO satellite operations above Brazil. SpaceX had received similar permission for its Starlink LEO constellation to provide services back in May, with Elon Musk highlighted Starlink’s potential for delivering connectivity to 19,000 rural schools. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, meanwhile, said that Starlink’s presence would help the country to “develop the [Amazon] region, which is very rich in biodiversity and mineral wealth”. 

In fact, this last comment could provide a key motivation for Musk in striking the deal with the Brazilian government; Brazil is one of the world’s largest lithium producers and Musk’s electric car business, Tesla, uses lithium-iron-phosphate batteries.

In related news, just yesterday Starlink was granted permission by the Federal Communications Commission to provide internet communications services to moving vehicles. For the time being, this will likely be limited to trains, planes, trucks, and recreational vehicles (RVs), with Musk saying that the existing terminals are simply too big for most consumer vehicles.

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