The low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites will allow for WiFi connectivity comparable in quality to home broadband

Commercial planes may soon be set to receive broadband internet for the first time courtesy of OneWeb and their LEO satellite constellation. OneWeb announced today that it has entered into a commercial agreement with SatixFy to deliver in-flight connectivity terminals that will work with OneWeb’s growing constellation as well as geostationary satellite networks.
The terminals will use multi-beam antenna technologies allowing them to operate simultaneously while connected to numerous satellites.
“The ability to deploy multi-beam, multi-satellite, multi-orbit in-flight connectivity terminals is key in SatixFy’s offerings. Aggregating capacity from multiple satellites will give customers the grade of service they expect to get on flights,” explained Yoel Gat, chief executive of SatixFy, noting the European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK Space Agency’s support throughout the development process.
“Space and satellites are becoming increasingly important to the digital economy and there is a need to get data all the time and everywhere – even on board a plane,” said Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA. “ESA is proud to have supported SatixFy in the design of the chips used for this terminal – enabling the digital transformation of society using telecommunications satellites.”
For OneWeb this development marks a positive step following a harrowing 2020, which saw the company face a liquidity crisis in March amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The company’s staff was rapidly reduced by around 85%, leaving them with only around 80 staff members, with the company blaming the coronavirus and the high cost structure of launching the satellites for its financial troubles, as well as emerging competition in the form of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.
By July 2020, a consortium led by Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Global and the UK government agreed to purchase OneWeb, with each of the pair committing $500 million to the project. The UK government is keen to explore OneWeb as a satellite partner to help them create a UK Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), replacing their reliance on the EU’s Galileo System.
Earlier this year, in January, further funding raised an additional $400 million from SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems, bringing their total funding to around $1.4 billion. This would give give OneWeb the funds it needs to build the full 648 satellites its has planned for its constellation, but reportedly not enough to launch them by their mid-2022 target. Mittal has suggested in the past that an additional $1 billion would be required to hit this target. 
Currently, OneWeb has around 110 satellites in orbit, with plans to expand the constellation as rapidly as possible. The next launch is planned for March 25th, which will see 36 new satellites launched into orbit.
Satellite connectivity is becoming increasing interesting for the telecoms sector, as the related technology begins to overcome some of the key bottlenecks of the past. Nonetheless, as we can see with OneWeb, launching satellites is not cheap and it remains to be seen whether a satellite connectivity model can be truly profitable on a large scale.
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