LEO constellation operators OneWeb, Iridium announce collaboration
WASHINGTON — Iridium and OneWeb, two companies pursuing different types of telecommunications businesses from low Earth orbit, said Sept. 17 that they would work together on a combined service offering.
The companies signed a memorandum of understanding at Iridium’s annual partner conference in Coronado, California.
Iridium CEO Matt Desch has long said that his company’s 66-satellite constellation doesn’t compete with broadband startup OneWeb because the companies use two different frequencies.
“It will be pretty rarely that people will look and try to pick one over the other for an application, because we both specialize where we specialize,” Desch told SpaceNews Sept. 17.
Iridium’s recently completed Iridium Next constellation uses L-band, a robust, but lower throughput frequency. The company plans to provide speeds up to 1.4 megabits per second for voice and data services through an offering called Iridium Certus.
OneWeb has six of a planned 650 initial satellites in orbit using Ku-band, a higher frequency with a slightly weaker signal but the ability to carry significantly more throughput. Dylan Browne, OneWeb’s vice president of government, said the company will be able to deliver hundreds of megabits per second to customers. OneWeb anticipates its average customer will want about 50 megabits per second, he said.
Browne said maritime will likely be an early focus area for collaboration, since most ships are required by the International Maritime Organization to have Iridium or Inmarsat terminals for emergency communications. OneWeb could add higher throughput communications to those ships for crew welfare and other applications, he said.
Desch said Iridium and OneWeb are still discussing what their partnership will ultimately look like. Those discussions include combined physical products, commercial approaches and operational back-office solutions, he said. In maritime, Desch expects the partnership with give Iridium a leg up against rival Inmarsat.
“We’re kind of the natural complement for the whole Ku and Ka-band industry outside of Inmarsat now,” he said.
Browne said military users could also benefit from pairing Iridium and OneWeb services.
“From a defense and security posture, they want as high availability as possible, so having optionality for two or maybe even three solutions on a vehicle, a ship or an aircraft that’s operating in a contested environment is really powerful,” he said.
In a news release, the companies said their partners could build terminals that leverage both constellations.
OneWeb’s next launch is in December on an Arianespace Soyuz from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The satellite operator plans to begin partial service in 2020, followed by full service in 2021.