AT&T and OneWeb, a satellite operator deploying a low earth (LEO) orbit constellation, have agreed to bring business connectivity to remote areas beyond the reach of the carrier’s network.
The arrangement, which was labeled a “strategic agreement,” will be aimed at enterprises, small- and medium-size businesses, government entities and cell towers in remote markets. Remote to AT&T’s network anyway.
OneWeb, a non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) provider, has launched 288 satellites and expects to add 360 — for a total of 648 — by the end of next year. The agreement will lead to service provisioning to AT&T business customers in Alaska and northern states this year.
“Working with OneWeb, we’ll be able to enhance high-speed connectivity in places that we don’t serve today and meet our customers wherever they are,” Scott Mair, the President, Network Engineering and Operations, AT&T, said in a press release. “We’re expanding our network with one more option to help ensure that our business customers have the high-speed, low-latency connectivity they need to thrive as the nation recovers from COVID-19.”
In late August of last year, the FCC approved market access to OneWeb. The company, which was formed as a joint venture between Qualcomm and The Virgin Group in 2015, had been in bankruptcy earlier in the year but was resuscitated by an investment from the British government and others.
LEO satellites are receiving significant attention these days, much of it driven by Space X’s Starlink unit. Amazon also has LEO intentions through its Project Kuiper. LEO satellites can provide higher bandwidth connections at lower latency than traditional satellites in higher geostationary orbits.
Starlink (and Kuiper presumably) has a focus on residential and SMB broadband, but Elon Musk recently hinted the company will pursue wholesale and carrier agreements. Long time satellite operator Telesat also has intentions to target the enterprise segment with satellite connectivity, through its forthcoming Lightspeed offering, a LEO based service.
In April, ABI Research released a report forecasting that LEO providers will reach 3.5 million subscribers this year. The sector, ABI says, will have a compound annual growth rate of 8% until 2026. At that point, LEOs will reach 5.2 million users and generate $4.1 billion in revenue.