OneWeb in $500m bid to beam net from space

Philanthropists and business bosses came together to celebrate raising the sum that could help see the internet brought to the most remotes areas of the planet

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The Independent Online

The Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, Airbus boss Tom Enders and rapper and philanthropist Will.i.am celebrated raising $500m for a business set up by a silicon valley tycoon aimed at using a 900-strong “constellation” of satellites to bring the internet to the remotest corners of the world.

The company, OneWeb, is the brainchild of Greg Wyler, who persuaded Sir Richard to join the programme while staying at his private island Neckar.  Virgin will help launch the satellites, Airbus will build them and Qualcomm will provide the chip technology.

OneWeb’s idea is that uers will require just a $250 terminal, which will act like a mobile phone base station, allowing broadband web and phone coverage to what were previously blackspots.

The satellites will orbit at a relatively low level, reaching aeroplanes, ships and oil platforms as well as remote corners of Africa and Asia.

Some in the industry have been sceptical about whether Airbus can deliver the satellites fast enough for launch in 2018 and point out that Mr Wyler left his previous company, o3B satellites, which had a similar ambition. He denied that was an issue, saying: “O3B is a great company and I wish them well. I’m still a shareholder but it does something very different from what we are doing.”

O3b, which stands for the Other 3 billion people on the planet who don’t have internet access, provided high quality terminals designed for telecoms operators, he said, whereas OneWeb is set up to provide a low cost terminal for consumers.

Cynics also say it will be difficult to get such a huge network of satellites to work seamlessly together. “Not so,” said Mr Wyler. “It’s just a case of driving more cars on the same road.”

Mr Wyler added that OneWeb would soon be opening an office in London.

Sir Richard, Mr Enders, Sunil Mittal, founder of the Indian telecoms group Bharti Enterprises, and Paul Jacobs, head of Qualcomm, are all joining the OneWeb board.

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