OneWeb announced it received $1.2 billion in funding to help it meet its goal of offering satellite-based internet services as soon as 2019. The new financing is led by Japan’s SoftBank. Qualcomm, Grupo Salinas, Airbus, Bharti, Coca-Cola, Hughes, Intelsat, MDA and Virgin have also invested in the company.
OneWeb wants to "fully bridge the digital divide by 2027," making internet access available and affordable for everyone, no matter where they live. About 50% of the world's population is currently offline largely due to lack of access in rural and poor countries.
The company plans to launch 10 production satellites in 2018 and begin offering low latency broadband access as early as 2019.
Companies are rethinking how to distribute internet services. In addition to OneWeb, Google, Facebook, SpaceX and other companies have also come up with various plans to beam the internet through technologies like low-orbiting satellites or high-flying drones and balloons.
The United Nations Broadband Commission points to the cost of extending last-mile infrastructure to rural and remote customers as a major roadblock in worldwide internet access expansion. Another challenge is many rural nations include huge underdeveloped areas where hard-wire delivery systems like landlines and towers don't exist. Supplying internet via drones, satellites or balloons could help solve that problem.
"Internet access is critical for digital government, health and education, and lack of access impairs financial growth when markets cannot develop, trade and become economically relevant to each other," OneWeb Founder and Chairman Greg Wyler wrote in a company blog. "This issue impacts everyone, and together we can solve it."