Ben MacWilliams, right, Starlink market access manager, is in talks with officials of Uzbekistan’s space agency in the country’s capital, Tashkent, May 9. Credit: Uzbekistan’s space agency

SEOUL, South Korea — Uzbekistan is trying to woo Starlink and OneWeb to bring their satellite broadband services to Central Asia’s most populous country. The overture is part of the Uzbek government’s efforts to strengthen the nation’s information technology competitiveness and provide better communications services to underserved remote areas.

Ranking officials recently met with the Starlink and OneWeb representatives in the country’s capital, Tashkent, asking for their satellite broadband services to be made available in Uzbekistan. They also called on the two companies to open an office there to explore further cooperation.

The meeting between Uzbekistan’s development of information technologies and communications minister and Starlink market access manager, Ben MacWilliams, took place May 10, on the sidelines of the Space Technology Conference STC-2022, according to a May 11 statement from Uzbekistan’s state investment promotion agency. During the meeting, the minister, Sherzod Shermatov, called on Starlink to expand the scope of its services to include the Middle East, South  Asia and Central Asia, according to the statement. The minister also suggested that Starlink open a representative office in Uzbekistan “to expand mutually beneficial cooperation.”

In response, MacWilliams announced his company’s “readiness to implement large projects in Uzbekistan, as well as in other countries,” according to the statement. SpaceNews reached out to Starlink to ask what the “large projects” are, but the company didn’t respond.

MacWilliams had a separate meeting May 9 with the director-general of Uzbekistan’s space agency. They discussed the issue of bringing Starlink services to the country, according to the agency

On top of this, the agency signed a memorandum of understanding with British satellite broadband provider OneWeb, according to the agency’s May 16 statement. OneWeb’s marketing director, Ivan Zaitsev, represented the company in the signing ceremony.

“The main purpose of the memorandum [of understanding] is to attract the British satellite communications company OneWeb to the Uzbek market,” the statement reads. The deal set the stage for the two sides to hold a discussion of “regulatory issues and determining the main needs of the state to prioritize the use of the available OneWeb satellite capacity,” it added. As part of the deal, the two sides agreed to establish a center of expertise on the use of OneWeb’s satellite broadband in Uzbekistan.

“The signing of a memorandum with OneWeb is a significant event in the development of space communications,” the space agency’s director-general, Shukhrat Kadirov, said in the statement. “The availability of OneWeb telecommunications services in the Republic of Uzbekistan will effectively implement the tasks envisaged by state programs for the development of information technologies and ensure the availability of innovative communication services even in remote regions of the republic.” 

Uzbekistan’s internet penetration rate stood at 70.5 percent of the total population of 34 million as of January 2022, according to data from DataReportal, an independent data collector.

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...