The battle for satellite-powered internet is heating up. Weeks after Tesla asked the U.S. Government for permission to launch a service powered by thousands of satellites above the Earth, rival project OneWeb has raised $1.2 billion in new funding to get things rolling as soon as 2019.
Networks are not likely to be operational for most people for years, but the money is already flowing in large amounts. OneWeb has raised $500 million from a bevy of investors that include Airbus, Qualcomm, Virgin, Boeing and Coca Cola. This new financing is led by Japan’s SoftBank, which is cutting a $1 billion check for the company.
OneWeb said the money will be used to “support” a high-volume satellite production facility that will be located in Florida that was first announced at the start of the year. The ambitious project aims to churn out 15 satellites each week at “a fraction of the cost of what any satellite manufacturing facility in the world can produce today,” the firm said in an announcement today. Development of the Florida-based is scheduled to be completed in 2018. The company said it will create around 3,000 new jobs over the next four years.
In that respect, the deal falls in line with SoftBank’s recent pledge to bring investment dollars and jobs to the U.S.. Following a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump this month, SoftBank CEO Mashayoshi Son pledged to create 50,000 new jobs in the U.S. and invest $50 billion in capital. That’s through both SoftBank itself — its businesses like Sprint and corporate investments like today’s news — and the $100 billion ‘Vision’ fund that the Japanese telecom giant is creating in partnership with PIF, Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund.
“Earlier this month I met with President-Elect Trump and shared my commitment to investing and creating jobs in the U.S.,” Son said in a statement. “This is the first step in that commitment. America has always been at the forefront of innovation and technological development and we are thrilled to be playing a part in continuing to drive that growth as we work to create a truly globally connected ecosystem.”
OneWeb’s wider goal is to help connect the global through a constellation of satellites that are capable of beaming affordable internet worldwide. That means better and cheaper coverage for existing networks and new-found connectivity in areas of the world that are currently offline. Among its lofty targets, the company wants to ensure that all schools have access to the internet by 2022, while it sees its network as having the potential to help emerging technologies like the internet of things, connected cars and more to become mainstream.
“With this new round of funding and based on our rapid technical progress over the past year, we also announce a much larger goal: To fully bridge the Digital Divide by 2027, making Internet access available and affordable for everyone,” OneWeb founder and chairman Greg Wyler wrote in a note on the company’s website.
Wyler said the company will launch an initial 10 test satellites in early 2018 with the aim of introducing a full fleet of 72 low orbit satellites six months later. All being well, OneWeb’s low latency broadband service could be operational as soon as 2019, he added.