SpaceX Starlink Competitor Plagued by Ground Problems in Quest for Global Coverage

SpaceX Starlink Competitor Plagued by Ground Problems in Quest for Global Coverage

Eutelsat, a leading satellite operator based in France, is encountering troubling delays in the deployment of its OneWeb satellite constellation that affect its plans to offer global-scale broadband coverage. The disruption to potential revenues is also a…minor factor.

Eutelsat is currently facing challenges in rolling out its OneWeb satellite constellation, a network designed to provide high-speed internet across the globe. Getting the broadband satellites to space hasn’t been the problem—that’s already a done deal (despite delays stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine). Rather, Eutelsat’s problems lie with issues on the ground.

As SpaceNews reports, difficulties in securing landing rights in key countries like India, Thailand, and Turkey, combined with delays in deploying necessary ground gateways, are hindering the company’s progress. In the parlance of satellites, landing rights are the legal permissions granted by a country to a satellite operator, allowing them to transmit and receive signals to and from a satellite within that country’s territory.

As for ground gateways, they’re essential stations that link satellite networks in space with Earth’s communication systems, facilitating data transmission and broadband services. However, the deployment of about 40 required gateways for the OneWeb service is lagging, with expectations that only 90% of the ground network will be ready by the end of June, according to SpaceNews. Eutelsat does not anticipate reaching the full number of gateways until the end of 2024, a big delay given that the constellation, consisting of 615 satellites, was completed in March of 2023.

This setback is particularly problematic in countries like India and Saudi Arabia, where Eutelsat holds “take-or-pay” contracts; these agreements mandate that purchasers must either accept LEO broadband services once operational or incur financial penalties. Needless to say, that won’t make Eutelsat’s customers very happy, as they’re likely not receiving the promised satellite broadband service on time.

Related article: What’s the Difference Between SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb?

The OneWeb constellation, a network of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, aims to enhance Eutelsat’s services by addressing gaps in traditional internet infrastructure. In contrast to SpaceX’s Starlink, which serves end-users directly, OneWeb is geared towards internet service providers (ISPs) and other business clients, positioning Eutelsat as an infrastructure provider rather than a direct consumer service.

Facing operational delays, Eutelsat has lowered its revenue forecast to approximately $US1.35 billion to $US1.4 billion for the fiscal year, SpaceNews reported. That said, with $US1.24 billion in pending LEO business, including a pre-existing $US297 million take-or-pay contract from within Eutelsat itself, the company is understandably upbeat about its future in the broadband market, despite the delays. For the company to fully capitalize on these opportunities, however, it’ll need to start delivering on its promised OneWeb services.

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