Life without the internet and social media has become unimaginable for people living across cities and small towns, but four billion people globally are yet to experience that connectivity. About 380 undersea cables provide web access to the world, but these are vulnerable to damages from ship anchors and undersea rock formations, which can cause major disruptions. To address this, OneWeb is entering the race to provide internet-from-space by launching 36 satellites from Andhra Pradesh.
Backed by the Bharti-group that’s also behind Airtel, OneWeb will be beaming high-speed internet from its constellation of satellites, as Reliance Jio gears up to compete with it. The technology already being offered by Elon Musk’s Starlink through 3,000 low orbit satellites, has been battle tested in Ukraine. It has the ability to provide internet to remote areas where the fiber optic cable network hasn’t reached, and can prevent outages due to unforeseen damages.
Scaling up efficiency and reducing glitches
Low orbit satellites reduce latency, which is the time taken for data to travel to a receiver, and can beam internet to receivers that can be placed in any location. Starlink has receivers that are even capable of melting snow, which means bad weather won’t hamper internet access as well. But it does come with risks, since Starlink had lost 40 satellites to a space storm earlier this year.
The 36 satellites make up 70 per cent of OneWeb’s low Earth Orbit constellation meant to beam internet to the ground, and will be launched in collaboration with ISRO’s arm NewSpace India. Jio has also received permission from the Department of Telecommunications to use a network of geostationary and medium Earth orbit satellites to provide broadband connections from space. With more than 25,000 Indian villages still deprived of internet connectivity via cables, broadband-from-space can be a game changer.
Saviour in Ukraine, blocked in India
Musk’s Starlink was introduced in Ukraine after the invasion of Russia cut off several regions from the rest of the world, and had amassed more than 150,000 users by May 2022. By June, it was providing internet to more than 400,000 subscribers across 25 countries, but Starlink’s entry was blocked in India in the absence of a license. This has opened doors for OneWeb and Jio which is promising a maximum speed of up to 100 Gbps.
Concerns about low orbit satellites causing a space junk problem were laid to rest by the conclusion that they will de-orbit naturally and burn up without leaving debris. At the same time the head of aeronautical research at the University of Southampton has said that Starlink satellites were behind half of all close encounters in space.