AT&T will tap into OneWeb's satellite network to reach remote areas

OneWeb has secured a key customer for its emerging low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband platform, announcing Wednesday that AT&T will use it to provide satellite-based connectivity to business customers in remote parts of the US.

Financial terms were not announced, but AT&T intends to tap into OneWeb's satellite-based platform to extend its reach in hard-to-serve areas that fall outside of AT&T's fiber footprint, or are beyond the reach of AT&T's network of cell towers. OneWeb's satellite-based platform will effectively "complement" AT&T's existing access technologies, the companies said.


OneWeb has launched 288 LEO satellites so far, and expects to push that number to 648 – and global coverage along with it – by the end of 2022. (Image source: Roscosmos, Space-Center-Vostochny and TsENKi)

AT&T notes that more than 9 million business customer locations are within 1,000 feet of its fiber network, but that there are remote areas that remain out of reach. By riding OneWeb's LEO-based broadband satellite constellation, AT&T reckons it will be able to deliver high-speed, low-latency services to small, medium and enterprise-sized business customers in those locations.

"Working with OneWeb, we'll be able to enhance high-speed connectivity in places that we don't serve today and meet our customers wherever they are," Scott Mair, president, network engineering and operations at AT&T, said in a statement. "We're expanding our network with one more option to help ensure that our business customers have the high-speed, low-latency connectivity they need to thrive as the nation recovers from COVID-19."

The deal with AT&T gives OneWeb a big-name tenant as it pursues a plan to launch a constellation of LEO satellites. OneWeb has launched 288 satellites so far, and expects to attain global coverage by the end of 2022 via a constellation of 648 satellites. In the meantime, OneWeb said it will be in position to reach AT&T business and government customers in Alaska and states in the northern continental US "later this year."

Update: A OneWeb official clarified that the company will be ready to serve the 50th parallel and above, which includes Alaska, later this year, and coverage will expand across the US in 2022.

The agreement enters the picture more than seven months after a Shravin Bharti Mittal, a Bharti Global exec and OneWeb board member, suggested that the satellite broadband company was nearing deals with telecom network operators for services such as cellular backhaul and disaster recovery.

Competition heats up

OneWeb's win with AT&T also surfaces amid growing competition in the satellite broadband sector.

Enterprise and business customers are among the targets for Viasat, which is in the process of providing global coverage with a growing fleet of high-power geosynchronous (GEO) satellites. SES also focuses on the business and government services market, and intends to hit those markets harder as it moves ahead with O3b mPower, a new global connectivity platform that will ultimately comprise a constellation of 11 medium Earth-orbit (MEO) satellites. Starlink, SpaceX's LEO-based satellite broadband service, has largely focused on the home broadband market, but has hinted at ambitions to serve connectivity to planes, trucks and other moving vehicles.

OneWeb recently landed a $300 million investment from South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Systems, which secured an 8.8% stake in OneWeb and a board seat. Other investors include India's Bharti Airtel (35% stake), the UK government (almost 20%), and Japan's SoftBank Group, France's Eutelsat and Hughes Network Systems.

Earlier this month, OneWeb inked a $1 billion-plus insurance agreement through broker/risk advisor Marsh as it prepares for its next phase of deployments.