BT signs agreement with UK-owned satellite operator OneWeb to improve rural connectivity

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BT has signed an agreement with UK-owned low-earth orbit satellite operator OneWeb to explore how connectivity can be improved in some of the most difficult areas to reach.

OneWeb operates innovative LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites that provide high-speed, low latency connectivity for governments, businesses, and communities around the world. The company continues to go from strength-to-strength, despite OneWeb almost having to shutter its operations following the pulling of crucial funding near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK government stepped in to purchase a majority stake in OneWeb alongside Bharti Group. Back in January, the company received $400 million from SoftBank and Hughes Network Group. Then, in April, GEO satellite giant Eutelsat took a quarter stake in OneWeb.

The pandemic that almost brought an abrupt end to OneWeb’s ambitions has highlighted the need for everyone to have access to fast and reliable connectivity.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, picking up on his post-election but pre-pandemic pledge to “level up” all parts of the UK, has committed to providing extra subsidies to deliver faster connections across the country.

Matt Warman, Digital Infrastructure Minister, said: 

“No one should miss out on the benefits of better broadband and mobile coverage. It is great that BT and OneWeb are working together to explore new ways to bring faster and more reliable connectivity to the hardest to reach homes.

Alongside industry, we have kicked off the biggest broadband build in British history and are spending a record £5.5 billion to end poor or patchy 4G coverage and deliver gigabit speeds in all corners of the UK.”

OneWeb plans to have deployed 254 of its 648 satellites by 1 July, with each being around the size of a fridge. The company expects to begin connecting UK customers and others in northern regions by the end 2021.

Neil Masterson, CEO of OneWeb, commented:

“This partnership is a huge sign of progress in the resilience and advancement of the overall telecom infrastructure in the UK. 

OneWeb’s network will be a vital means for bridging the last digital divides across the network and we are excited to be part of the solution with BT to expand the nation’s digital infrastructure.”

The companies will explore how satellite technology could improve capacity, mobile resilience, backhaul, and coverage – including Fixed Wireless Access – in challenging geographic locations.

Philip Jansen, Chief Executive at BT, added:

“Our ambitious full-fibre and mobile commitments have put BT at the forefront of efforts to expand digital connectivity across the UK.

It is clear that greater partnership is needed, both with government and within industry, to ensure connectivity can reach every last corner of the country.

Our agreement with OneWeb is an important step to understanding how that goal could be achieved in the future.”

In March, BT said that it would commit £12 billion and “build like fury” to increase the availability of full-fibre connections following the decision from British telecoms regulator Ofcom not to set a price cap on Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) connections.

Earlier this month, French telecoms giant Altice took a 12.1 percent stake in BT to become the company’s largest stakeholder.

“Altice believes that the UK provides a sound environment for substantial long-term investment. This is supported by the current regulatory framework which offers BT the appropriate incentives to make the necessary investments,” Altice UK said.

The latest agreement with OneWeb is another long-term investment by BT in ensuring even the most remote parts of the UK are equipped with the connectivity they need.

(Image Credit: OneWeb)

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