OneWeb says it’ll start delivering broadband internet service to the Arctic via satellite in 2020, turning the “Last Frontier” into a new frontier for data beamed from orbit.
The London-based company provided fresh details about its market rollout today, saying that it will deliver fiber-like connectivity amounting to 375 gigabits per second of data transmission capacity above the 60th parallel north by the end of next year.
That area takes in most of Alaska as well as Canada’s Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, plus parts of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador. It also encompasses Greenland, Iceland and parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. (The Arctic Circle is a little higher up, at about 66.5 degrees north.)
Historically, the Arctic region has been underserved by broadband data access, due to the difficulty of installing fiber-optic cable. Alaska, for example, ranks No. 44 on the list of 50 states in terms of connectivity, according to BroadbandNow.
Satellite links get around many of the limitations, and the fact that OneWeb is putting its satellites in low Earth orbit will make for fast response times. In a series of HD video streaming tests, conducted in July using OneWeb’s first six satellites, latency averaged less than 40 milliseconds.
OneWeb says its ground antennas will be fully operational by January to serve the Arctic region, and it’s planning to have dozens of satellites in pole-to-pole orbits by then. With more than $3 billion in investment from the likes of Japan’s SoftBank Group and Mexico’s Grupo Salinas, the company expects to begin offering substantial services for business, telecom and governmental users toward the end of 2020. Full 24-hour coverage would be provided by early 2021, OneWeb said.
“Our constellation will offer universal high-speed Arctic coverage sooner than any other proposed system meeting the need for widespread connectivity across the Arctic,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said today in a news release.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said boosting internet access will give a boost to economic development as well.
“Connectivity is critical in our modern economy,” she said. “As the Arctic opens, ensuring the people of the Arctic have access to affordable and reliable broadband will make development safer, more sustainable and create new opportunities for the next generation leading in this dynamic region of the globe.”
OneWeb isn’t the only player in the satellite broadband market: Just last week, California-based Astranis Space Technologies announced that it’s reserving a spot on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a geostationary satellite that would provide broadband internet service to Alaska starting in 2021.
Astranis’ satellite is designed to provide 7.5 Gbps coverage, with somewhat higher latency due to its higher orbit.
SpaceX and Amazon are also planning to offer satellite broadband internet service. SpaceX launched its first 60 operational Starlink satellites in May, and is targeting the 2020-2021 time frame for the start of commercial service. Amazon hasn’t announced a timetable for its Project Kuiper satellite service, but it seems likely to lag behind OneWeb and SpaceX.
SpaceX’s Starlink development effort is based in Redmond, Wash., where there are 48 job openings. Project Kuiper’s career website currently lists 93 job openings, including 91 in Bellevue, Wash., and two in Seattle.