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Executive Interview: Eric Béranger, CEO of OneWeb
The proposed LEO, 648 satellite constellation will provide broadband access to any location on the planet
Eric Béranger is the CEO of OneWeb, the proposed low earth orbit, 648 satellite constellation that, once launched, will provide broadband access to any location on the globe.
Before joining OneWeb, Béranger held management positions in engineering, operations and finance at France Telecom, Société Générale and Matra Marconi Space (now Airbus Defence and Space). In 2006, he was awarded the prestigious Chevalier de la légion d’honneur for his accomplishments in developing space activities.
Béranger graciously agreed to Microwave Journal’s request for an interview to discuss OneWeb.
Describe OneWeb and your vision for it.
OneWeb is about bridging the digital divide for the more than four billion people without broadband internet access globally. With OneWeb, wherever you are in the world, you will have access to the same high speed internet as you would be experiencing at home. This means that with OneWeb, everyone, every community on Earth, schools, consumers, businesses, first responders, whoever, will have access to knowledge, news, entertainment, voice communications, data and real-time interaction.
We recognize the importance of information access and realize its potential to create economic opportunity, promote civic transparency and enable social progress. The world with OneWeb will not be the same.
What’s the business model for OneWeb? Who will be your customers?
OneWeb is a mobile network operator (MNO), and our business model is wholesale. All over the world, we will enable our customers, MNOs and internet service providers (ISP), to expand their coverage into rural areas to provide access to customer communities beyond the reach of terrestrial infrastructure.
Describe how the system will relay data from someone in a remote region of the world to and from the internet. What kind of bandwidth or data rate can a user expect? Does the system work with cellular and Wi-Fi?
OneWeb will be totally embedded in the broadband internet ecosystem. Technically, the only difference between OneWeb’s and a mobile operator’s network architecture is that our base stations will use space instead of fiber or microwave to connect to the internet.
To the end customer, OneWeb is completely transparent; they will not even notice that they are using our service. They can simply use their own device, through their existing service provider, to access the internet and any voice and data applications through Wi-Fi, LTE or Ethernet.
In developing the system, what are the main technical challenges your team is facing?
As a standard MNO, we are facing, basically, the same constraints as all the MNOs on this planet. In addition, we are also handling the specific challenges related to the operation of a space infrastructure! This requires a lot of experience and a lot of professionalism, which OneWeb is fortunate to have. This requires hard work, but we are progressing as planned and, so far, we are not facing any obstacle.
What spectrum will be used for the ground-to-satellite and satellite-to-ground links? Has it been secured globally?
This is an important point, indeed. The satellite to terminal link is operating in the Ku-Band, for which we are enjoying a worldwide priority for the orbit OneWeb will be operating in — the low earth orbit (LEO). Only one coordination was needed; it has been completed.
The gateway to satellite link is operating in the Ka-Band. For this band, we are enjoying a good priority worldwide and we have engaged the process of addressing the few coordinations that are required. We are not expecting any major difficulty.
You recently announced investments of $1.2 billion to support the next phase of system development. How will the funding be used?
As was already announced in the press, OneWeb has secured its series A (in 2015 for $500 million) and series B (in 2016 for $1.2 billion) funding rounds. The preparation of our infrastructure is progressing well.
Outline the key milestones and the timeline between now and having an operational system circling the globe.
The implementation of the two satellite manufacturing facilities (in Toulouse, Europe, and in Florida, USA) is running. As major milestones coming, I would mention the launch of the first 10 pilot satellites in early 2018. Once these pilots have been rigorously tested in orbit, we will start launching the whole fleet in end 2018, with first initial services to be made available by 2020.
In the late 90s, several LEO satellite constellations — Teledesic was probably the best known — were proposed to provide broadband services to the globe. They all disappeared when the telecom industry imploded. What are the lessons from that era that you are paying attention to?
Well, the world is not the same as 25 years ago! 25 years ago, the demand for high speed, low latency internet and data down to the consumer was not there. The GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) paradigm and this exponential surge for high data rate internet everywhere in the world did not exist.
Further, the technology necessary to serve such exponential demand, both in space and on the ground, wasn’t available. Today it is available, and OneWeb is leveraging it.
Tell us a bit about your own background and what led you to such an ambitious satellite venture.
Honestly, OneWeb for me has been love at first sight. This ambition is something you get one opportunity in a lifetime to achieve, and the solutions which have been chosen to make this vision come true are very sound and realistic.
I have always enjoyed creating new businesses. The last time I did it was at Airbus Group, where I created a space services company from scratch (Astrium Services). So when I met Greg Wyler and had the opportunity to work with him and this incredible team to create, again, a brand new business with such an exciting ambition, to me it was a no brainer.