UK takes on Elon Musk in the broadband space race | Technology sector

By | October 19, 2021

They are invisible to the naked eye, although can leave a streak of sunlight in an astronomer’s telescope. Above our heads, the constellation of small satellites orbiting the Earth is growing every month. Usually no more than a frieze, they’re part of a race to new territory as rivals compete to beam the broadband web to the toughest places on Earth.

Leading the way are Starlink, which is backed by American tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, and OneWeb, which is partly owned by the British taxpayer. The latter’s plan to build a community of 650 satellites is a centerpiece of the UK’s space strategy, unveiled in September.

In 2020, OneWeb was facing bankruptcy and the government was persuaded to save it. For Boris Johnson it was a gift from heaven. The UK was bounced by Brexit from the European Union’s Galileo Satellite TV for PC venture, and Dominic Cummings, tech savvy and chief advisor, touted the community as a way back into the region.

At the time OneWeb was targeted at the use of satellites to provide accurate position information for anything from smartphone maps to monitoring emergency providers.

The £400m of taxpayer cash on Johnson’s 20% stake was seen by Cummings as a perfect example of the high-risk, high-reward funding the federal government wanted to keep away from being left within the technological gradual lane. Others called it a futile gamble of public cash and “nationalism trampling strong industrial coverage”. Some experts indicated that the UK “bought the wrong satellites”. OneWeb’s low-Earth orbit Webb satellites were, he said, inferior to high-orbit positioning techniques compared to Galileo, America’s GPS and Russia’s GLONASS.

However now, with the demand for satellite TV for PC broadband exploding, Britain could – perhaps unintentionally – buy itself a dominant seat in the business of another revolutionary but budding sector.

Rejuvenated OneWeb has attracted funding from Japan’s SoftBank, US’s Hughes Community Programs and India’s Bharti Enterprises. Bharti is the largest shareholder with 38.6%, while the UK has offered up 45% to 19.3%, on par with SoftBank and France’s Eutelsat, which are planning an additional £120m injection this month.

OneWeb and Starlink are the only broadband operators that have actually put satellites into space, and OneWeb is set to offer significantly quicker web entry in remote areas. Analysts say the issue is that Johnson, who just weeks ago unveiled Britain’s ambitious new space strategy – immediately called Galactic Britain – has yet to see its potential.

When the UK withdrew from Galileo, we lost access to some sort of service that was critical to our nationwide infrastructure,” said Marek Zibart, professor of regional geodesy at College School London. , navigation and timing] providers as an economical and fast means of delivery, and it was simply a very unhealthy idea. They haven’t given up on the concept yet.”

He says the flipside is that with 322 OneWeb satellites already in orbit and its constellation nearly half full, the UK is well-positioned to invest money in a profitable and geopolitically advantageous broadband market.

“When you start capturing part of the territory by launching satellites, it’s a lot like seizing Wild West land: Others will find it too hard to work there too,” Ziebart said. . “You can see that a lot of people are putting in as much effort as possible to launch that type of knowledge [and] it could put the UK in a technologically dominant position if it all works out. It is in the interest of the UK government to enter the communications infrastructure. From an area coverage perspective, it is really smart to get a piece of low earth orbit communications satellite TV for PC mode, as this is the new paradigm.

Washington state-based Starlink has stolen a march on rivals, with Amazon’s Kuiper project, Musk’s sources and your entire SpaceX fleet at your disposal. It has launched nearly 1,800 satellites, received approval for an additional 10,000, and submitted an application for a group of 42,000—all while all except OneWeb are still on the ground.

Starlink may also be the operator that has developed a practical floor terminal to course indicators from the field at up to 300 Mbps of web service, which Musk says is set to complete its year-long beta testing phase this month. is on schedule. It expects to supply a cellular model of its fixed-location receiver, named the Dish McFlatface, by the end of 12 months.

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