With its global LEO satellite constellation now complete, hardware on-track for certification, and anticipated major airline deals — OneWeb moves from laying the foundation for an enhanced inflight connectivity experience, to actually making better onboard connectivity.
OneWeb, the low Earth orbit satellite connectivity company, has achieved key milestones as part of its objective to connect the unconnected and bridge the digital divide on land, at sea and in the air. OneWeb’s philosophy of ‘for the industry, by the industry’ approach to aviation has been well received by its technology, integration, and distribution partners.
On March 26, OneWeb completed its 18th launch (its third this year), achieving a significant milestone in the history of OneWeb and the future of connectivity on Earth. The launch, which took place from Sriharokita, India, brought the total number of OneWeb’s satellites in orbit to 618 satellites that exceeds the 588 active satellites needed to achieve global coverage. By the year-end, OneWeb will be ready to roll out global coverage, enhancing its existing connectivity solutions that are already live in regions north of 50-degrees latitude as it brings new areas online.
Commenting on the launch, Ben Griffin, VP Mobility at OneWeb said, “With this launch, OneWeb has become the first broadband LEO constellation that is truly complete and the only one with effective polar coverage north and south. We’re also the only LEO network operator with high-quality service level agreements and a robust technical network to fully support mobility customers. We remain on course to deliver global coverage by the end of 2023 — with aviation services coming online in early 2024.”
In February, OneWeb, together with partners Intelsat and Stellar Blu, successfully tested a hybrid satcom solution leveraging both LEO and GEO satellite networks during flight tests. Testing took place on Intelsat’s Bombardier CRJ-700 regional jet outfitted with the new electronically-steered antenna (ESA) built in conjunction with Stellar Blu and OneWeb. This is the only commercially available product in the aviation industry that has been proven to operate on both OneWeb’s low Earth orbit satellites and geostationary satellites.
Peak inflight download speeds exceeded 275Mbps, facilitating applications such as live virtual meetings, media streaming – and with the enhanced low latency of the OneWeb network, cloud computing without interruption.
Ben Griffin, VP Mobility at OneWeb said, “The ability for OneWeb to integrate with existing GEO constellations will provide airlines with flexibility and peace of mind as the new LEO capabilities of the OneWeb network are deployed and proven. We expect certification of this ground-breaking antenna in Q1, 2024.”
Due to the large physical footprint and weight penalties associated with existing hardware installations, regional jet fleets have, up to now, gone without inflight broadband, or have been served by air-to-ground solutions that haven’t always met the need. But Alaska Airline’s decision early this year to offer “streaming fast” Wi-Fi on its E175 fleet, beginning in 2024, validates the need for regional connectivity.
Alaska Airlines has selected Intelsat for an industry-first regional IFC upgrade and will become the first customer for the OneWeb/Stellar Blu developed ESA that Intelsat successfully tested in February.
In a press release about this news, Alaska Airlines touted the benefits of being able to access both LEO and GEO constellations through the new antenna:
“Intelsat’s state-of-the-art satellite Wi-Fi equipment will be the first commercial application of an electronically steered antenna that communicates with both low Earth orbit and geostationary satellites located 22,000 miles from Earth. With LEO at just 300 miles from the Earth’s surface, thousands of small satellites circling the planet ensure stronger connectivity with lower latency, or delay in telecommunications.”
At the 2023 Aviation Achievement Awards in Dubai on February 28, OneWeb was named Best New Satellite Service. Accepting the award on behalf of OneWeb was Ben Griffin Vice President Mobility and AMEA Region.
Commenting on the achievement, he said, “We thank the team at Creative Middle East, as well as our trusted technology and distribution partners for this award — which is testament to the validity of this strategy.”