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OneWeb set to make in-flight Wi-Fi more powerful than ever

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Andrey Armyagov)

OneWeb, the British-based satellite broadband firm part-owned by the UK government, has agreed a deal that will see its technology used to power in-flight Wi-Fi services.

Traditional in-flight Wi-Fi systems based on satellite technology have suffered from patchy coverage, slow speeds, and high latency.

However, a new generation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, sometimes paired with LTE technology, is improving matters.

UK OneWeb

Electronic component manufacture SatixFy, which is also based in the UK, is building a new in-flight connectivity terminal that will work across both OneWeb’s LEO constellation and geostationary satellite networks. Multi-beam antenna technology will allow the terminals to operate simultaneously across multiple satellites.

A unique selling point is SatixFy’s application-specific integrated cictuit chipset that was developed in conjunction with the UK Space Agency as part of the European Space Agency’s Advanced Research in Telecommunications system (ARTES).

SatixFy has created a joint-venture with Singapore Technology Engineering Ltd to commercialise the technology for the aviation market.

“The ability to deploy multi-beam, multi-satellite, multi-orbit in-flight connectivity terminals is key in SatixFy’s offerings,” said Yoel Gat, SatixFy CEO. “Aggregating capacity from multiple satellites will give customers the grade of service they expect to get on flights. This great leap forward is made possible thanks to the continuous support by ESA and the UK Space Agency.”

The deal is a boost for OneWeb, which had hoped to gain first mover advantage in the satellite broadband space, believing the combination of its harmonised spectrum and LEO constellation design would give it technological supremacy.

It secured more than $1 billion in funding before filing bankruptcy protection last year. It was rescued through a takeover by Indian telco Bharti Airtel and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. The government now owns a third of the company after investing £400 million.

The package allowed OneWeb to resume satellite launches and increase its constellation to 110. The plan is to eventually have a constellation of 650, but it is thought that additional funding will be needed to complete this vision.

Steve McCaskill is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with eight years' experience. I write about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.