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OneWeb plans wholesale-only approach as SoftBank adds $350m

Satellite company OneWeb will be a completely wholesale operation from its commercial launch in October, the executive chairman has told Capacity.

In an exclusive interview, Sunil Bharti Mittal (pictured), said the company will reach the market through existing local partners and will not have its own retail arm.

“We’re talking to everyone,” Mittal told Capacity. “It could be a local telco or a local systems integrator.”

The company, which today saw SoftBank join its investors, will launch with complete coverage of everywhere between 50°N latitude and the North Pole in October 2021, he confirmed.

That will ensure coverage of the UK and Ireland, the Nordic countries, Poland and most of Russia, as well as the Arctic Ocean. The rest of the world will have interrupted coverage until all 648 satellites are in service, by May or June 2022, Mittal told Capacity.

The company is already talking to BT and Vodafone about using OneWeb to help meet their rural coverage obligations, he added. Both BT and Vodafone expressed surprise when Capacity checked with them, but neither has yet responded formally.

Hours after Capacity’s interview with Mittal, the company announced that SoftBank will invest US$350 million in the satellite company. At the same time Hughes Network Systems confirmed its plans to invest $50 million, already announced last year. The company’s main backers are Mittal’s Bharti group and the UK government, which put in $500 million each to rescue OneWeb from chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.

SoftBank was an investor in the original OneWeb, and it was the decision of founder Masayoshi Son to stop supporting it that pushed it into chapter 11.

“Three or four” companies are developing receivers, said Mittal. “Let’s say before Christmas this year the UK will have them in their homes.”

The first generation of OneWeb’s satellites will have a total capacity of 4Tbps, said Mittal. They orbit at 1,200km above the Earth, so latency is 35-40ms, he added. The company restarted launches in December. Capacity

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