In a bid to provide affordable Internet access to all, Bharti Airtel has acquired a minority stake in OneWeb, which plans to offer communication services using satellites by 2019. OneWeb has received USD 500 million for the project from its investors and plans to launch services by 2019.
OneWeb, founded in 2012, is building a communication network with an initial constellation of 648 low earth orbit satellites. Investors in the company include Qualcomm Inc, Virgin Group, Airbus Group and Coca-Cola Company. Airtel did not share investment details in OneWeb but said it will be able to leverage the investment by becoming a preferred distributor of these services across its operations in 20 countries in Asia and Africa.
"Access to affordable high speed Internet is a powerful tool for economic development and empowerment of populations, particularly in emerging economies. OneWeb, an innovative system backed by leading global corporations, will complement the efforts of governments and telecom operators across the globe to take internet to the masses," Bharti Enterprises Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said in a statement.
The OneWeb mission is like the Facebook-led Internet.org initiative which states that it aims to bring 5 billion people online in partnership with tech giants like Smasung and Qualcomm. OneWeb satellites will provide high speed connectivity to a small user terminal which transmits broadband access via WiFi, LTE, 3G and 2G to surrounding area. Users will be able to access Internet through these terminals.
OneWeb said its terminals will connect to devices either on unlicensed frequencies, or using their partner operators' frequencies to provide coverage. The terminals can be placed on any home or business and a cable can be run into the house to connect to a small device similar to a cable modem.
At the same time the terminal would, if necessary provide the local wireless coverage. "In India, which is on the cusp of a massive data revolution, hundreds millions of consumers in rural areas will benefit from this initiative and it will boost Governments Digital India programme and its vision of broadband access for all," Mittal said. Seven global corporations, including Qualcomm Inc, Virgin Group, Airbus Group, Bharti Enterprises, The Coca-Cola Company, Grupo Salinas, and Intelsat, have joined the communications initiative.
Following the announcement of its joint venture with Airbus Space and Defence to build the highest volume satellite production factory in the world, OneWeb today also announced the largest commercial rocket acquisition ever of more than 65 rockets from Arianespace and Virgin Galactic.
OneWeb said Arianespace will be providing 21 Soyuz rockets from three separate launch pads on a firm schedule, 5 Soyuz options and 3 Ariane 6 options. Virgin Galactic will be providing 39 separate launches. Founder of OneWeb Greg Wyler said the company is committed to solving one of the world's biggest problems enabling affordable broadband Internet access for everyone.
Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders said: "Whether at some remote place on earth or flying high on an Airbus aircraft, you'll be connected: a grand proposition for mankind and a sound business opportunity for us! We are committed to giving our full industrial and space expertise to this mission."
Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO, Coca-Cola Company said the project will help spur local economic development where people are in the greatest need, while also helping its business by improving real-time access to some of the worlds most remote areas. "Our vision is to make the Internet affordable for everyone...We believe that OneWeb, together with Virgin Galactics LauncherOne satellite launch system, has the capability to make this a reality," said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
"Qualcomm is committed to working with the ecosystem to extend connectivity to everyone, everywhere, and everything around the world through our innovative technologies. Our investment with OneWeb along with our expertise and core technologies furthers this objective," said Paul E Jacobs, Executive Chairman of Qualcomm Incorporated.
"We have been looking at every detail and are excited to participate in the ground system design, development and production. In addition, we will employ the OneWeb network to deliver services to our global base of customers and distribution partners," Hughes President Pradman Kaul said.