Russia-Ukraine war delays OneWeb’s planned service launch in India

OneWeb SpaceX launch
Image credit: OneWeb

Satellite communications provider OneWeb has managed to secure a license from the Indian government to provide satellite-based broadband services in the country – but its planned commercial service launch in May could be delayed because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

OneWeb is establishing a global constellation of 648-odd LEO satellites to deliver satellite broadband services in rural and remote regions globally. It has already sent 428 satellites in orbit. However, OneWeb recently suspended satellite launches from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan after Moscow’s space agency Roscosmos demanded guarantees that its technology would not be used for military purposes.

That demand coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting the UK government – which owns a stake in OneWeb, as does Bharti Airtel – to support the decision to suspend launches from Baikonur and review its participation in “all further projects involving Russian collaboration”.

That’s resulted in a delay in launching the remaining satellites, which will impact service introduction to lower latitude regions, including India, a company spokesperson told the Economic Times.

OneWeb is still searching for fresh locations to launch its remaining LEO satellites, including India’s ISRO, but the spokesperson said that its planned May 2022 service launch will likely be delayed.

While OneWeb now has the necessary GMPCS (global mobile personal communications by satellite services) permit in hand to launch services in India, the delay could put it on the back foot as competition in India’s fledgling satellite broadband sector is expected to ramp up quickly.

OneWeb had last year secured a separate Letter of Intent (LoI) for national long distance (NLD) services from the DoT. A joint venture between Hughes Communications and Bharti Airtel will now distribute OneWeb’s satellite broadband services in India utilising the NLD licence.

However, Reliance Jio is also entering the ring via its joint venture with Luxembourg’s SES to offer satellite broadband via geostationary and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites. Jio has announced its intention to disrupt satellite “cost structures” in a manner similar to its strategy in the mobile sector. Amazon and SpaceX’s Starlink are also eyeing India’s satellite communications market.

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