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Bharti boards OneWeb sat project building a rural internet

Some 640 satellites will beam 2/3/4G and Wi-Fi to solar powered terminals that cost $250

The Bharti group has acquired a strategic minority stake in OneWeb, a satellite internet company that seeks to provide affordable internet access in rural and remote areas across the globe. Other investors in OneWeb include Qualcomm Inc, Virgin Group, Airbus Group, Coca-Cola Co, Intelsat and Grupo Salinas. They have together put in $500 million, and plan to start services by 2019.

Bharti Airtel will be a preferred distributor of the service in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Africa, with a strong focus on rural markets. It will also have representation on the OneWeb board.

OneWeb will build a communications network through 648 low-orbit satellites. Its user terminals will have embedded LTE, 3G, 2G and Wi-Fi access capabilities.

With more than 10 terabits per second of new capacity, the system will extend the networks of mobile operators and internet service providers to new areas, bringing voice and data access to consumers, businesses, schools and health care institutions, among others.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises says he will talk to Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation) so that they could also be part of the project and do satellite launches. As of now, Arianespace and Virgin Galactic will do the launching.

Mittal adds that "it is a very cost-effective solution….All that is needed is to put up a terminal, which will cost $250 and be powered by solar energy. You could run it instantly and get connected without the requirement of any towers. It is ideal for a village panchayat, which could buy and put this terminal on top of a water tank”.

“The people around could be connected to 3G/LTE instantly, depending upon what they want. Similarly, government schools could be used as a hub to put these terminals and connect rural and remote areas easily. The beauty of this system is unlikely Iridium, for which you had to buy expensive satellite phones, here, you could be connected with your existing mobile phone,” he said, adding OneWeb would boost the Centre’s Digital India programme and its vision of broadband access to all.

Based on a news story in Business Standard

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