the marriage between Eutelsat and OneWeb in five issues

The race for stars is relaunched, and a French company takes the lead. French satellite operator Eutelsat announced on Tuesday that it had signed “a memorandum of understanding” to merge with Britain’s OneWeb, of which it is the second-largest shareholder after Indian group Bharti Global. The goal is stated: to enter the high-speed Internet market from space together and try to overshadow the Starlink project, carried by the Space X company of the American Elon Musk. OneWeb already has a nice constellation of 428 satellites, the implementation should be completed before the end of 2022.

Who are Eutelsat and OneWeb?

On the one hand, there is Eutelsat, one of the main space operators, founded in the late 1970s. With its 35 satellites located 36,000 kilometers from Earth, the French operator allows the broadcasting of 7,000 TV channels to 274 million homes worldwide. It also provides high speed internet.

On the other hand, the company OneWeb, founded in 2014, specializes in broadcasting the Internet from space. Already 428 of its satellites are stationed in low orbit, a few hundred kilometers above sea level. OneWeb hopes to complete the deployment of its 648 satellites by the end of the year. The company already provides high-speed internet to businesses, governments and communities in Northern Europe, the UK, Alaska and Canada. Unlike Starlink and Kuiper (Amazon’s constellation, see below in the article), OneWeb will not offer services to individuals.

Why this marriage?

In a way, this comparison makes sense. Eutelsat already owned 23% of the capital in OneWeb. Broadband Internet distribution is a growing market “boomer”, “estimated at $16 billion by 2030” according to Eutelsat press release published on Monday. But although the agreement between OneWeb and Eutelsat is on the way, it is not yet certain that it will succeed.

Internet from space, what is it for?

Having an internet network wherever you are, in the mountains, in a deep valley, in the middle of the desert, by the sea or in a rural area: here is the promise of the spatial internet. While 5G is developing on our mobiles, as we use our phones and connected objects more and more, this spatial internet makes it possible to have both very high speed and very low latency. The needs are enormous.

How does it work?

These satellites are much closer to Earth, and even visible to the naked eye on summer nights, because they are located at a distance of between 550 kilometers and 1,200 kilometers in altitude. Used until then, the machines are in geostationary orbit at an altitude of more than 35,000 km. If they promise three to five times higher speeds than ADSL, this distance means that they cannot reach the fiber performance and are handicapped by the delay between the order and the execution of the request.

To receive the internet connection transmitted by Starlink e.g. just place a satellite dish in your garden. On the other hand, these new satellites are much more vulnerable than geostationary ones with a shorter lifetime, as shown by the loss of several dozen units Starlink after a magnetic storm February last year. Result, “they have to be constantly replaced” say several specialists interviewed by AFP, at risk of “multiply” also space debris. According to The World“satellite communications represent less than 1% of the global data transport market”.

Who will be this mammoth’s competitors?

The competition is already fierce. The most advanced is undoubtedly the Starlink satellite network owned by tycoon Elon Musk. More than half of the 4,408 satellites in its constellation have already been deployed. He wants 42,000 in the end. The service already works in several countries, as in Ukrainewhere Starlink has become one of the only ways to stay connected.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, also wants to develop the spatial internet with the Kuiper project. The goal is to send 3,236 satellites. Bezos will rely on his Blue Origin satellite launcher, but not only. Arianespace will be responsible for 18 launches in Europe. Prototypes will be launched at the end of the year.

Among other projects, China’s Guowang also plans to launch a mega-constellation of 13,000 satellites reminiscent of the SpaceNews site. United Arab Emirates would also like to be a part of, like the Canadian Telesat. In Europe, the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton has repeatedly expressed that its intention to create a European satellite constellation. A tender has been launched. Its budget is estimated at six billion euros. Commissioning is planned for 2024, then a full implementation by 2028.

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