Starry starry night? No, it's just more low Earth orbit satellites as BT and OneWeb ink deal

Brit telco to test out broadband tech in UK labs before customer trials next year


Government-owned satellite broadband slinger OneWeb says it is planning to loft 648 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites in the next eight months, after signing terms with BT for a new Distribution Partner Agreement.

This builds on the initial Memorandum of Understanding the pair signed in July and will see BT test how LEO satellite tech fits with its terrestrial networks.

Trials with customers are expected to follow early in 2022, BT said. Philip Jansen, BT chief exec, described space as an "emerging and enormous digital opportunity," adding "this is an important step towards harnessing its potential for BT's customers across the globe."

"We will put OneWeb's technology through its paces in our UK labs with the goal of delivering live trials in early 2022. Delivered securely and at scale, satellite solutions will be an important part of our plans to expand connectivity throughout the UK and globally, and to further diversify the range of services we can offer our customers."

The UK government brought OneWeb out of bankruptcy last year along with Indian multinational Bharti Global, and the company received a cash injection from Eutelsat in April this year.

Once the LEO sats are in place, they will provide UK and global coverage – although at an altitude of between 800km and 2,000km and coming around every two hours, the BT vans may have a problem catching them on the maintenance schedule.

When the system is fully up and running – currently the plan is for this to be by 2028 – it should be possible for people in remote areas or locations where there has been a disaster to enjoy the communications that are taken for granted in urban dwellings.

The network will back up and complement the backhaul infrastructure in places where the installation of cable and microwave is too expensive, via a permanent or temporary ground site. Initially businesses will benefit from this system yet speeds are going to be slow in comparison to some other systems. However, with testing in Bristol on schedule, the rollout is so far on track, meaning some customers should be on it by early 2022.

Rumours were that the reason the UK bought up OneWeb and its systems was to redesign it into some form of GPS to replace the UK's lost share of Galileo, drawing widespread scorn from the space community as the system is not suited to GPS. Reassigning it to such a role would be more difficult and expensive than just putting up a few hundred more purpose-built satellites. The OneWeb sats are too low for current GPS systems and emit the wrong type of signal, though we shall never know whether BoJo knew this at the time of the deal, which he called a remedy to a situation where "the UK has been left behind in the space race."

In January this year, OneWeb filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for US market access for 48,000 broadband satellites, rapidly downsizing its request to a mere 6,372 sats just days later in line with the "vision of OneWeb's new owners, the UK government and Bharti Global."

BT is following in the footsteps of fellow unloved US telco AT&T, which inked a deal with OneWeb in September. Like BT, the US telco is partly bankrolled by a taxpayer-funded broadband rollout, with the Connect America Fund giving it $428m a year in support.

AT&T has previously complained it was too expensive to expand high-speed fibre networks for customers in remote areas, so rural dwellers on both sides of the pond will be hoping to clap eyes on the LEO constellation soon. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021