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OneWeb satellite
An artist’s conception shows a OneWeb satellite in orbit. (OneWeb Illustration)

The international OneWeb consortium says it’s raised another $1.25 billion in funding for its internet satellite constellation, ensuring a ramp-up in its production and launch campaign with the aim of offering high-speed global access by 2021.

OneWeb says its new capital infusion is coming from Japan-based SoftBank Group, Mexico-based Grupo Salinas, Qualcomm Technologies and the Rwandan government — and will bring total investment to $3.4 billion.

“This latest funding round, our largest to date, makes OneWeb’s service inevitable and is a vote of confidence from our core investor base in our business model and the OneWeb value proposition,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said today in a news release.

OneWeb’s first six satellites were launched last month from Arianespace’s spaceport in French Guiana, atop a Russian-built Soyuz rocket. OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture with Airbus, is rampling up satellite production in Florida, and the company aims to start launching 30 satellites at a time by the end of this year.

The goal is to have more than 600 satellites in low Earth orbit to make high-bandwidth, low-latency data services to the estimated 4 billion people around the world who are currently underserved. Among the likely first applications: emergency and disaster response, educational access and enhanced communications in developing regions. That’s presumably why the Rwandan government is in on the latest financing round.

In addition to Europe’s Airbus and Arianespace, OneWeb’s partners include the Virgin Group and Hughes Network Systems. The venture’s launch providers include Arianespace, Virgin Orbit and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

OneWeb isn’t alone in pursuing the low-Earth-orbit satellite access market: SpaceX is aiming to put up its own broadband satellite constellation, with service projected to start in the 2020-2021 time frame. SpaceX’s facility in Redmond, Wash., is playing a key role in developing the Starlink satellites.

Canada-based Telesat is also planning to put a broadband satellite constellation in low Earth orbit, and has also struck a launch deal with Blue Origin.

Marcelo Claure, chief operating officer of SoftBank Group Corp. and CEO of SoftBank Group International, argued that recent developments — including the financing round announced today — show that OneWeb “has extended its first-mover advantage and is on track to become the world’s largest and first truly global communications network.”

“OneWeb’s potential is undeniable as the growth in data from 5G, IoT, autonomous driving and other new technologies drives demand for capacity above and beyond the limits of the existing infrastructure,” Claure said.

Update for 2:55 p.m. PT March 20: We’ve revised this report to refer to Hughes Network Systems by its proper name.

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