SoftBank invests $1.2 billion in the OneWeb satellite network

Plans are to build a massive network of internet satellites with global coverage

SoftBank sinks $1.2 billion in the OneWeb satellite network
Credit: Thinkstock

We now know at least one recipient of Masayoshi Son's massive $50 billion investment for the U.S. He ponied up $1.2 billion for OneWeb, the global satellite project for worldwide internet coverage. 

OneWeb is a project from English entrepreneur Richard Branson. The goal is to put as many as 2,400 small satellites in low orbit to provide complete global coverage for broadband internet access in many places where it's not available. According to SpaceNews, that number has been reduced to 900

One of the problems is how to get 900 satellites into orbit without a high payload vehicle like the Space Shuttle. OneWeb has to build its own specialized launchers. Another problem is building 900 satellites. That's why the startup costs are so enormous. The company estimates it will need $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion to get everything launched, an enormous sum for a startup. 

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So far, OneWeb raised $500 million in June 2015. It thought that money would last 18 months, and then it would do a pair of B and C rounds of funding of $500 million each, but founder Greg Wyler told SpaceNews that with the SoftBank investment, it raised the B round and compressed the B and the C rounds together. 

So far, OneWeb has received investments from Airbus Group, Intelsat, Bharti Enterprises, Totalplay, Hughes Network Systems, Qualcomm, Coca-Cola Co. and the Virgin Group. As of this point, there are no plans to go into the markets to raise more money, according to Wyler. 

OneWeb built the first 10 satellites in France but plans to produce the rest in the U.S., with parts also coming from Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere. 

The new capital will support the construction of a manufacturing facility in Exploration Park, Florida, that will be able to produce 15 satellites per week and is expected to create nearly 3,000 new U.S. jobs in engineering, manufacturing and supporting roles over the next four years. 

Son said in a statement that the OneWeb investment is part of the promise he made to President-elect Donald Trump to invest in the U.S. 

"Earlier this month, I met with President-Elect Trump and shared my commitment to investing and creating jobs in the U.S. This is the first step in that commitment. America has always been at the forefront of innovation and technological development, and we are thrilled to be playing a part in continuing to drive that growth as we work to create a truly globally connected ecosystem," he said.  

OneWeb is a proposed constellation of satellites designed to provide global internet broadband service to individual consumers all over the world, including parts of the world that have little or no high-speed internet or 4G telco coverage. Wyler said it is possible OneWeb could have all 900 satellites orbited by 2020. Initial services would start when the population reaches around 300 satellites, he said.

When the network is complete, OneWeb expects its constellation to provide more than 10 terabits per second of new capacity, supporting 2G to 5G communications and Wi-Fi.

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