In March of 2022, the UK-based satellite communications company OneWeb announced its agreement to launch a new fleet of satellites with SpaceX. Since then, the two organizations have performed several successful launches together.
For many in the communications industry, this sudden partnership came as a shock. SpaceX is the parent company of Starlink, perhaps the most well-known provider of high-speed space-based internet—and one of OneWeb’s most significant rivals in the “telecommunications space race.”
Although the two satellite internet providers don’t see themselves as direct competitors, there’s significant overlap in their target markets. As such, the OneWeb-SpaceX partnership is bound to have some interesting effects on the industry.
What those effects will be in the long term will reveal themselves in time. But, for now, we can look at the immediate impact of the OneWeb and SpaceX collaboration.
Why OneWeb and SpaceX Joined Forces
Since its inception, OneWeb has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to launch satellites into space. The launch scheduled on March 4, 2022, was supposed to be no different. OneWeb, in partnership with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, planned to launch 36 satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
But tensions surrounding the recently ignited Russia-Ukraine war brought the operation to a standstill. Russia wanted OneWeb to promise they wouldn’t use the satellites for military purposes. However, OneWeb, backed in part by the UK government, couldn’t make that promise. So the launch was suspended, leaving OneWeb without a ride into space.
Less than three weeks after the scrubbed launch, OneWeb announced their satellite program would resume thanks to an agreement with the US company SpaceX.
On December 9, 2022, OneWeb and SpaceX launched 40 satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO). One month later, the two organizations sent another 40 OneWeb satellites into space from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Although there are currently no public plans for another joint launch, there hasn’t been an official end to the partnership, either.
What This Partnership Means for the Satellite Connectivity Industry
In many ways, the SpaceX-OneWeb partnership is largely symbolic. After all, SpaceX wasn’t OneWeb’s only option. In fact, the company also sent 36 satellites into orbit with the India Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Even so, the unlikely union could prove to have a profound impact on the industry. Here are a few ways this partnership could change the game.
Better Global Connectivity—Faster
OneWeb’s goal of total global connectivity requires a constellation of 648 satellites. But, at the time of the company’s fallout with Roscosmos, only 428 satellites (66% of the planned fleet) were in orbit.
By partnering with SpaceX, OneWeb was able to keep its initial vision on track. When the London-based organization reaches its target of 648 satellites, businesses and governments will be able to connect to the internet from anywhere in the world.
Although SpaceX and OneWeb are “rivals,” there doesn’t seem to be any friction between the two. On the contrary, OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson has repeatedly thanked SpaceX for their support, noting that the partnership “reflects our shared vision for the boundless potential of space.”
The keyword here is shared. Every active satellite connectivity company has a common goal: To bring high-speed internet to the world.
Perhaps this new space race—the scramble for high-speed satellite internet—will be far more cooperative than the original one. A SpaceX-OneWeb collaboration opens the door for other satellite connectivity partnerships and progressions. Already, we’ve seen OneWeb and SpaceX approach the FCC together with claims that their satellite constellations can coexist.
Ultimately, the sooner satellite internet organizations work in tandem (instead of opposition), the sooner average consumers will reap the benefits.
One Step Toward Monopolization?
Naturally, any partnership between two industry leaders raises antitrust questions. But while SpaceX has agreed to launch OneWeb’s satellites into orbit, the two companies remain entirely separate.
Moreover, OneWeb and Starlink aren’t the only players in the satellite connectivity industry. Other organizations making strides in space include:
- Project Kuiper (Amazon)
In the end, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any single entity take complete control over space-based internet. The OneWeb-Starlink partnership doesn’t seem to indicate a merger or acquisition. However, with bandwidth demands soaring around the globe, we are likely to continue to see additional entrants into the new “space race.”
“SES’ O3b mPower service is expected to commence commercial service later this year. It promises to offer a highly capable and configurable service for enterprise and government customers. While it’s better positioned to fulfill backhaul requirements than end-user services, those backhaul services will likely distribute 5G and other terrestrial wireless services to a wider range of end users.
“Amazon’s Project Kuiper will launch its first prototypes later this year, marking the entrance of another very large player in the market. While it remains to be seen exactly how Kuiper will compete with other services, the valuable tie-in to Amazon’s other businesses like AWS is undeniable.”
– Bill Pitz, CTO at IP Access International
The Russia-Ukraine conflict was the catalyst that led OneWeb to turn to SpaceX for support. If and when tensions ease, sanctions on Russia may eventually lift, and OneWeb will theoretically be free to conduct launches through Roscosmos again.
However, whether or not the UK government-backed OneWeb will return to Russia is anyone’s guess. On the other hand, SpaceX and OneWeb’s necessity-driven partnership could morph into a permanent agreement; only time will tell.
Partner With IP Access: Connectivity Experts
No matter what happens, the current deal between OneWeb and SpaceX only benefits consumers. With one space-based internet provider launching another’s satellites into orbit, customers will have more choices for high-speed, from-anywhere connectivity—not fewer.
If OneWeb’s partnership with SpaceX demonstrates anything, it’s the growing importance of reliable communications for various industries. Organizations, from first responders to private businesses, are turning to satellite networks to meet their connectivity needs like never before.
At IP Access International, we specialize in connectivity. So whether you need on-the-go communications or wireless backhaul for business continuity, we have your back. Using a combination of satellite networks from multiple providers, we make sure you can get online and stay online.
Ready to begin a partnership of your own? Drop us a line—we’d love to hear from you.