Panasonic Avionics to bring OneWeb LEO broadband to planes

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TAMPA, Fla. — Panasonic Avionics, one of the largest providers of satellite-enabled broadband to aircraft, said Oct. 18 it has reached a deal to sell low Earth orbit (LEO) connectivity services from OneWeb in the second half of 2023.

The agreement enables Panasonic to resell standalone services from the British startup or pair it with the capacity it leases from satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO).

Panasonic helped pioneer the nascent inflight connectivity (IFC) market. It delivers services to more than 70 airlines via a GEO service covering 99.6% of the world’s flight routes.

Adding LEO capabilities from OneWeb would enable pole-to-pole coverage with forward link speeds approaching 200 megabits per second (Mbps), according to Panasonic, and return link speeds up to 32 Mbps.

Ben Griffin, OneWeb’s vice president for mobility services, said the deal enables the LEO operator to leverage Panasonic’s “reputation, expertise, and reach” to bring its network to airlines.

The agreement also paves the way for OneWeb’s services to be integrated into existing in-flight entertainment systems that Panasonic provides for aircraft.

OneWeb expects to resume its satellite launch campaign Oct. 22 following an eight-month delay after Russian Soyuz launches were embargoed over the war in Ukraine.

The startup expects to deploy its remaining satellites over the next six months to reach global coverage before the end of 2023. 

Fast-evolving market

Panasonic’s OneWeb tie-up has implications for Viasat’s planned takeover of U.K.-based Inmarsat.

The U.K.’s competition watchdog launched an in-depth investigation into the deal Oct. 14 after highlighting its potential to harm IFC competition.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Viasat and Inmarsat are currently the strongest IFC players, and their combination could make it difficult for OneWeb, SpaceX’s Starlink, and other new entrants to build up market share. 

Although Panasonic currently has a high share of the IFC market, the CMA said the company’s share is shrinking because of its dependence on third-party satellite capacity “and airlines’ perception that it is expensive and offers old technology.”

According to Viasat and Inmarsat, competition in the IFC market is already sky-high, and will be put into an even higher gear as these well-funded entrants gain traction.