Telco Buzz

Exploring BT’s Shift from OneWeb to Starlink’s Satellite Connectivity

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This week’s buzz revealed that BT has been in deliberate conversations with SpaceX to explore the possibility of utilizing the ever-growing LEO satellite fleet from Starlink to deliver connectivity to remote vicinity in the UK. The negotiation seems to largely focus on assisting enterprise clients located in isolated areas, for instance, oil rigs and mining operations. It is usually tough to provide reliable connectivity in such areas through standard, land-based solutions. Starlink would be employed to deliver fixed wireless access services at these sites while boosting mobile connectivity.

Interestingly, BT has been recognized as a major partner of OneWeb, a competitor of Starlink, since striking a deal with the UK-focused satellite operator in 2021. Live combination trials of both companies’ technologies have been in the pipeline since early 2022, with the most recent initiative being launched on Lundy Island in the previous summer.

The reasons as to why BT is investigating possibilities with Starlink rather than via its partnership with OneWeb haven’t been outlined. However, speculation hints it could be tied to Starlink’s escalating direct-to-device capabilities.

Over the past year, Starlink has shown great ambition in delivering satellite connectivity directly to consumers’ unaltered smartphones. They have stepped away from the conventional satellite terminal which serves as go-between the satellite and the consumer. With global coverage, Starlink promises seamless connectivity to each subscriber as long as their view of the sky is unblocked.

Earlier this year, Starlink launched its inaugural direct-to-device enabled satellites and concluded its first test with satellite integration with the T-Mobile network last week. SpaceX has future strategies to widen their direct-to-device services to voice, data, and IoT services by 2025. Earlier in the week, BT confirmed tests of Starlink technology at its R&D facility, Adastral Park.

The consequences of these deliberations on BT’s relationship with OneWeb remains to be clarified. Initially, every major UK mobile operator seemed to have its unique LEO satellite partner, BT had partnered with OneWeb, Virgin Media O2 was trialling Starlink technology, and Vodafone, currently looking to merge with the UK’s fourth mobile operator, Three UK, had landed a deal with Amazon’s nascent Project Kuiper constellation. If BT ultimately refocuses its satellite concentration towards Starlink, OneWeb could find itself in a precarious position in its UK home market.

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