If you are talking about satellites, the names Boeing and SpaceX probably do not raise an eyebrow, but OneWeb may prompt some questions. If you are talking about the Internet, the name OneWeb may sound like a potential match, but where do Boeing and SpaceX fit? As it turns out, all three of these companies are vying to provide Internet access around the globe via satellites.
According to Reuters, Boeing is close to reaching a deal to build a high-throughput communications satellite for technology pillars such as Amazon, Google, Apple or Facebook. These technology companies want to capitalize on the opportunity to provide Internet access to the estimated 70 percent of the globe that still lacks it.
Jim Simpson, vice president of business development and chief strategist for Boeing Network and Space Systems, explained that the challenge is to reduce the cost of satellite communications to be closer to that of terrestrial costs. This would enable the technology companies to justify the cost of developing a larger communications satellite. If there is not sufficient demand, Simpson said the technology companies would then have to pay for a “really high performance satellite.”
SpaceNews.com reported that SpaceX plans to open a Seattle-based headquarters for an Internet satellite project that will establish a system of 4,000 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). These LEO satellites will offer Internet connectivity around the globe. SpaceX received noteworthy backing when Google and Fidelity Investments provided a $1 billion investment in January. Simpson pointed out that the investment was an equity stake in the company and not in the satellite project. While this is true, the investment is important, because SpaceX clarified that the funds “will be used to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability and satellite manufacturing.”
Both SpaceX and Boeing may have to share the Internet satellite market with OneWeb, a new startup lead by Greg Wyler which aims to send 2,500 LEO satellites into orbit by 2018 to provide Internet access equal to fiber optics quality around the world. Bloomberg Business indicated Wyler has put $6 million of his own money into the company to date and has some substantial resources behind him. Virgin Group and Qualcomm are investing “tens of millions” according to Virgin founder Richard Branson who sits on OneWeb’s board. In reference to OneWeb, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “we want a satellite that is an order of magnitude more sophisticated than what Greg wants.” In response to Musk, Branson shared that Wyler is the only person to have thought through all of the technical details and acquired the international wireless spectrum rights to provide Internet service from space.
Boeing, SpaceX and OneWeb appear to have potential starting points which sound good. Nonetheless, we will have to wait and see which company can execute well enough to win this new space race.
(Photo: Satellite Sees a Hyperactive Tropical Atlantic, Flickr)