Starlink's competitor OneWeb puts 36 satellites in orbit

OneWeb's internet satellites being put into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
OneWeb's internet satellites being put into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Image credit: OneWeb)

Bharti-backed OneWeb, the low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications company deployed 36 satellites by Arianespace from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Monday. It was OneWeb's eighth launch of 2021 and twelfth overall. Now the company boasts of 394 internet satellites in orbit. 

This represents over 60% OneWeb’s planned 648 LEO satellite fleet that is expected to deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity.

OneWeb, which is part-owned by the British government, is building itself into a big player in the internet satellite segment to compete with Starlink, which is part of Elon Musk's much hyped SpaceX program. OneWeb is said to have plans to bring satellite internet to India.

OneWeb to provide high-speed internet to remote locations

The London-based company also plans to provide high-speed internet access to customers around the world, especially remote and under-connected locations. OneWeb is now fully-funded with $2.7 billion that it raised since November 2020. In the past month, OneWeb has signed distribution partner agreements with companies in Europe, Australia and Canada for its service network. 

"These agreements, along with other recent strategic partnership announcements with AT&T, Hughes Network Systems, BT, and Leonardo DRS, will further OneWeb towards its goal of bringing improved digital communication services to some of the hardest to reach parts of the world," it said in a press statement. 

Sunil Bharti Mittal, OneWeb Executive Chairman, said: “OneWeb now has over 60% of its global satellite fleet in space. It is an extraordinary achievement for a company that was reborn just a year ago.”

Neil Masterson, OneWeb CEO, commented: “Today’s launch is a great way for OneWeb to complete a highly successful year."

OneWeb and its India plan

OneWeb plans to launch it global service by the end of 2022. But it has its task cut out against SpaceX-backed Starlink that has already launched 1,944 satellites since 2019. SpaceX constellation is expected to reach close to 4,400 satellites. Amazon is also developing its own internet satellite constellation called Kuiper. It has not launched any satellite yet though.

OneWeb, as it is Bharti-backed, will be hoping to make inroads in India through Airtel brand presence. India will be an important market for it. But here again, Starlink is the one that is making all the early noises.

The competition between OneWeb and Starlink, as and when it happens in India, would be both intense and interesting. 

The Indian government is in the final stages of approving a new spacecom policy that will underscore the role of LEO satellite systems in increasing Internet coverage.

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Balakumar K
Senior Editor

Over three decades as a journalist covering current affairs, politics, sports and now technology. Former Editor of News Today, writer of humour columns across publications and a hardcore cricket and cinema enthusiast. He writes about technology trends and suggest movies and shows to watch on OTT platforms.