Hughes and OneWeb deploy high-speed internet for U.S. military at remote Arctic base

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A Hughes-OneWeb prototype network at Thule, Greenland, is fast enough to enable video conferencing, streaming video and games

WASHINGTON — U.S. troops at Thule Air Base, Greenland, a remote military outpost well outside the footprint of a typical geostationary satellite, are getting high-speed internet from OneWeb’s polar-orbiting constellation.

Hughes Network Systems and OneWeb announced June 22 that they have successfully deployed a prototype low Earth orbit network at Thule, fast enough to enable video conferencing, streaming video and interactive games. 

The network supports about 600 service members living at the base. One recent evening, about 100 military personnel at Thule “were online simultaneously, consuming close to a terabyte of connectivity,” Hughes said in a news release. 

Thule Air Base is home to U.S. military units that conduct missile warning, space tracking, and satellite command-and-control operations. The Hughes-OneWeb demonstration is significant as high-speed internet connectivity in the Arctic region is hard to come by. For decades, Iridium Communications has been the only operator able to provide continuous coverage over the poles — and only for less bandwidth-hungry services such as mobile telephony and various monitoring and tracking applications.

Hughes and OneWeb are working under a $3.4 million contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory. AFRL oversees the U.S. Air Force’s Defense Experimentation Using the Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) program. Hughes, the prime contractor on the Thule project, is a OneWeb investor and is supplying portions of the ground segment.

Built in the 1950s, Thule is the northernmost U.S. military installation, located less than 1,000 miles from the North Pole. 

“The testing has demonstrated the ability of emerging LEO networks to dramatically improve communications to areas that have traditionally been extremely difficult to serve,” said AFRL program manager Brian Beal. “The residents at Thule have been thrilled with both the performance and stability of the network as they’ve used it to connect with family, friends, and colleagues around the world.”

Hughes said the Thule LEO network includes four antennas connecting with the OneWeb satellites that orbit overhead, delivering about 14 terabytes of data per month.