OneWeb, a prominent operator of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, has leveraged support from one of its most significant shareholders, Japanese telecommunications firm Softbank. In a majority agreement, OneWeb’s constellation is expected to considerably enhance and bring value to Softbank’s network deployment, especially in those areas that pose accessibility challenges. Additionally, it will cast a lifeline for disaster-stricken regions by offering a crucial backup communication link.
This agreement tops the charts in Softbank’s ‘Ubiquitous Network’ strategy. The strategy ropes in various non-terrestrial network (NTN) solutions, encompassing geostationary earth orbit (GEO) satellites, high altitude platform stations (HAPS), and LEO satellites, in an effort to bolster Softbank’s network coverage. By integrating such distinct solutions, Softbank envisions transforming its digital services to appeal to a broader audience.
To rewind a bit, in 2020, Softbank invested in a US-based entity named Skylo, an expert entity at delivering narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) services from satellites. Together with satellite operator Inmarsat, Softbank is spearheading the GEO aspect of its initiative. On the HAPS front, Softbank has steered the development through HAPSMobile, its subsidiary. Until Google’s unexpected exit in 2021, Softbank and its HAPS division, Loon, were working in close partnership. Recently, HAPSMobile successfully demonstrated a small prototype version of its cutting-edge uncrewed aircraft system (UAS).
OneWeb and Softbank have a long-standing history of collaboration, which is why Softbank’s transition to become a reselling partner of OneWeb’s rival, SpaceX’s Starlink Business service, caught industry experts off guard. Given Softbank’s increased stake in OneWeb, following OneWeb’s rise from bankruptcy in 2020, the transition was surprising. Despite this, OneWeb has taken substantial strides toward launching in Japan. The company has garnered Softbank’s partnership, helping it gain approval for building satellite ground stations in Japan.
Now that OneWeb has finished deploying its first generation LEO constellation of 648 satellites, Softbank believes the time has come to integrate OneWeb into its Ubiquitous Network fully.
Softbank’s VP and head of product technology, Takenori Kobayashi, stated, “This collaboration will offer customers high-speed, low-latency connectivity solutions in remote and in underserved areas in Japan. We look forward to working closely with OneWeb to provide exceptional service and expand the reach of our growing Ubiquitous Network throughout the region.”
In addition to nearing its Japanese launch, OneWeb is on the brink of merging with GEO operator Eutelsat. The merger cleared legal hurdles in early August, and the final shareholder vote on the merger is set to occur on 28th September. Eutelsat’s CEO Eva Berneke and CFO Christophe Caudrelier will lead the combined operation, and OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson will remain involved to assist with the integration process until year-end.