It’s an exciting time to be alive: A new space race is happening in the skies above us. But this time, the two “competitors” aren’t rival nations. Instead, it’s Starlink vs. OneWeb.
These private satellite broadband companies are working to make space-based connectivity a reality. The two organizations have already begun building networks of worldwide internet coverage by launching hundreds of satellites into low Earth orbit.
While OneWeb and Starlink are similar in many ways, they differ significantly. In fact, contrary to popular belief, these organizations don’t necessarily see themselves as head-to-head competitors.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this semi-collaborative space race between two of the most innovative companies of our generation.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is a division of SpaceX, the space exploration company headed by billionaire Elon Musk. With a “mega constellation” of satellites that circle the Earth, Starlink aims to make from-anywhere connectivity possible for the average person.
Starlink began launching satellites in 2019, using SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets to hurtle the first segments of the Starlink constellation beyond the atmosphere. Today, the company offers internet access to more than 30 countries.
What is OneWeb?
Founded in 2012, OneWeb is a UK-based broadband satellite organization that’s also looking to expand connectivity across the globe. In the words of OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson, the company works to “provide fiber where there’s no fiber.”
OneWeb may look like the underdog next to Starlink, but the company is well beyond startup status. OneWeb has the support of various high-profile international investors and organizations, including:
- The UK government
- The Indian telecom firm Bharti Global
- The Japanese investment group SoftBank Group
With so many major players throwing their hats in the ring, it’s clear that OneWeb’s satellite operations have a promising future.
Comparing Starlink vs. OneWeb
So, Starlink and OneWeb both send satellites into orbit to provide internet to terrestrial users. But how and why do they do it? And what capabilities do their solutions have?
Goals and Purpose
Starlink and OneWeb may be “rivals” in a business sense, but they’re also peers. In some cases, they’ve even collaborated, with OneWeb using SpaceX rockets to launch at least 40 new satellites into orbit.
This partnership isn’t a conflict of interest because, in many ways, OneWeb and Starlink aren’t direct competitors. Instead, the two organizations have different objectives, philosophies and target audiences.
Starlink’s mission is to provide high-speed internet access to everyone. While that includes businesses, Starlink’s primary focus is on residential customers. Specifically, individuals in rural locations where land-based infrastructure is lacking.
OneWeb’s objective of supplying high-speed internet to the entire planet is similar, but the UK-based company caters to businesses. By targeting commercial audiences, OneWeb can fulfill its goal of improving the Internet of Things (IoT). Consumers will still access OneWeb’s satellite broadband, but they’ll do so through a secondary business.
What would a Starlink vs. OneWeb comparison be without a deep dive into tech specs?
First, there’s each constellation’s distance from Earth. Although satellites from Starlink and OneWeb are both in low Earth orbit (LEO), they’re nowhere near each other. Starlink satellites operate just 550 km (340 mi) from our planet. OneWeb satellites, on the other hand, circle the Earth at a distance of 1,200 km (746 mi).
Compared to traditional satellites—which stay in geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) at roughly 36,000 km (22,369 mi) away—Starlink and OneWeb offer a much faster connection.
That brings us to our second comparison: Latency. Regardless of orbit type or distance from Earth, broadband satellites work by sending and receiving data from Earth (to put it simply).
Because Starlink and OneWeb satellites are much closer than GEO options, overall latency—the time it takes for data to travel back and forth—is much lower. Higher latency can lead to slow page loads or out-of-sync audio and video.
Starlink advertises a maximum latency of 20 to 40 milliseconds, though field tests average around 40 to 50 milliseconds. That’s still slightly better than OneWeb’s promise of sub-100 millisecond latency. However, since legacy broadband satellites often have a latency of 600 milliseconds or more, either provider offers a substantial improvement over current technology.
Satellite Constellation Details
Some of the most significant Starlink vs. OneWeb differences lie in how the companies launch satellites. And taking a “by the numbers” look at each organization’s launches makes it easy to see how the two compare.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of some noteworthy details:
- Satellite launch specifics – Naturally, Starlink uses rockets from its parent company, SpaceX, to send its satellites into space. Interestingly enough, at the time of writing, so does OneWeb. Before the Russia-Ukraine war, OneWeb had an agreement with the Russian space agency Roscosmos. However, the company has since pivoted to launch its most recent satellites using SpaceX rockets.
- Current fleet size – By the most recent count (October 20, 2022), Starlink has already launched 3,505 satellites. As of January 10, 2023, OneWeb has 542 satellites in orbit.
- Proposed fleet size – Eventually, Starlink plans to grow its operations to more than 42,000 satellites. OneWeb’s short-term goal is to have 648 satellites circling the globe, as that’s the number required for global coverage. However, the UK-based company hopes to one day expand its fleet to 7,000 satellites.
At first glance, Starlink’s feats seem much more impressive. But it’s vital to remember that these two companies have different timelines and objectives—and both are on track to change connectivity as we know it.
Starlink and OneWeb: Better Together
Whatever comparisons and competition exist between Starlink and OneWeb will likely benefit the public. After all, space races tend to push technology forward for everyone.
At IP Access International, we recognize the value that each organization brings. That’s why we leverage both technologies to power FUSION—our 24/7 connectivity solution that makes high-speed internet possible from anywhere.
By combining satellite coverage from Starlink and OneWeb with on-the-ground cellular services, we’ve assembled a network of networks that can provide reliable internet to anyone, anywhere. So from remote business ventures to search and rescue operations, everyone has the opportunity to stay connected.
To learn more about our connectivity solutions, contact us today.