OneWeb is widely considered to be Starlink’s biggest competitor when it comes to setting up low-earth orbit (LEO) constellations powering internet services.
Right now, Starlink remains the only game in town. However, OneWeb is expected to leave its beta phase soon and could pose a significant threat, particularly in the business-to-business (B2B) domain.
Before we go ahead in comparing the two projects, here’s a quick breakdown of what is being covered in this article.
|Subscriber Count||Undisclosed||> 1.5 million|
|Number of satellites in orbit||634||3,425 satellites|
|Proposed constellation size||648||42,000 satellites|
|Pricing||Undisclosed||$90 to $120 per month for the Residential plan (United States)|
$250 (lowest tier) per month for Business subscribers
|Target Customer||B2B||B2C & B2B|
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at how OneWeb and Starlink stack up against each other.
OneWeb plans to deploy a total of 648 satellites in LEO by the end of 2023. Right now, 634 of those (~ 98 percent) are working.
However, only around 500 satellites have reached their operational orbit according to researcher Jonathan McDowell.
Furthermore, the 36 satellites it launched on March 26th, 2023 now allow the company to provide global internet coverage.
The satellites, which are assembled in a 142,000 sq ft factory in Florida, roam earth at a distance of around 1,200 km (~ 745 miles) and an inclination of 87.4 degrees.
Each OneWeb satellite is capable of delivering 7.2 Gbps of bandwidth, for a total of 1.1 Tbps.
Meanwhile, the satellites themselves are a result of a joint venture between OneWeb and Airbus, which was formed back in 2016. Together, they created an industrial supply chain consisting of approximately 40 suppliers that provide all the necessary parts.
In an interview with the BBC, OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said that the company does not aim to compete with Starlink and SpaceX in terms of constellation size. OneWeb may add other satellites but would not go beyond 1,000.
Interestingly, OneWeb initially aimed to deploy 47,884 satellites back in 2019. It then trimmed down its ambitions to 6,372 and then again to the proposed 648.
Starlink, on the other hand, has deployed substantially more satellites (over 3,700) than OneWeb even plans to launch (648 for now). That’s because its constellation is mostly comprised of smaller satellites that are located closer to earth.
Starlink has developed three distinct satellite models thus far, namely Gen 1.0, 1.5, and 2.0. The first two models roam earth at a distance of about 540 km to 570 km (335 mi to 355 mi) while weighing between 226 kg (Gen 1.0) to 295 kg (Gen 1.5).
Gen 2.0 satellites, which are more potent and thus provide greater bandwidth capabilities, weigh up to 1,250 kg (2,760 lb). However, the v2 mini satellites, which SpaceX began to deploy in late February 2023, weigh closer to what the v1.5 do.
Each v1.x satellite is capable of delivering up to 20 Gbps while the v2 minis can offer up to 80 Gbps – both significantly higher than what OneWeb provides.
All in all, Starlink plans to eventually deploy a constellation of 42,000 satellites. It received approval from the FCC to deploy up to 7,500 Gen 2.0 satellites back in December 2022.
Starlink’s constellation is set to be replaced every 5 to 6 years. After that period, its satellites will re-enter earth’s atmosphere, with most parts burning up upon landing.
Interestingly, deploying satellites in LEO to offer high-speed internet isn’t the only similarity OneWeb and Starlink share.
In fact, some of OneWeb’s satellites have been transported on board SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The first 70 percent or so of its satellites were launched by Roscosmos, Russia’s state-owned launch provider.
However, OneWeb was prohibited from using Roscosmos’ Soyuz rocket after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine back in February 2022. The situation got so bad that satellites worth $50 million are now stranded on Russian soil without any chance of recovery.
OneWeb, as a result, hired SpaceX to conduct some of its launches. Its third launch provider is NewSpace India Limited, another state-sponsored initiative. NewSpace, for example, was responsible for OneWeb’s March 26th launch.
Meanwhile, Starlink does not need to work together with launch providers. All of its satellites have been transported on board SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Heavy rockets.
Its new Gen 2 satellites, which are almost 4x the weight of the previous generation (v1 and v1.5), will mostly be transported onboard its Starship rocket. Notably, SpaceX managed to load at least one Gen 2 satellite onto the Falcon Heavy rocket before.
One last thing to note: the fact that OneWeb has to resort to contracting its biggest competitor (SpaceX owns Starlink) for launch services just speaks to how far ahead SpaceX is in terms of cost-effectiveness.
OneWeb is currently providing internet services with the help of distribution partners in Alaska, Canada, the United Kingdom, Greenland, and the wider Arctic area.
With the launch of the 36 satellites in late March 2023, OneWeb is now able to offer worldwide coverage.
CEO Masterson said that services across the globe will be rolled out by the end of 2023. In July 2023, for example, OneWeb extended its connectivity offering to large parts of the US and Europe.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., OneWeb is available in 48 states and ready to take on Starlink in the hunt for business and government customers.
Starlink launched all the way back in November 2020 in the United States. It has since expanded to over 60 countries across the globe. You can check where Starlink is available here.
Additionally, Starlink has also expanded into a variety of different customer groups and now offers seven different internet plans.
OneWeb is yet to disclose pricing for its internet service. Luckily, industry insiders can help us out here. Chris Quilty of Quilty Analytics, in an article with the Financial Times, disclosed that a OneWeb terminal costs $10,000.
What is provided by the firm are the types of customers and industries it sells to, namely aviation, government, maritime, and land mobility.
Given OneWeb’s troubled financial past, it makes sense that it focuses on the B2B sector, which normally demands less overall customer care and comes with higher per-customer margins.
Its primary clients are telecom companies who provide internet services to consumers. These companies may use OneWeb’s connectivity to enhance or extend their mobile network infrastructure.
In the above-mentioned BBC interview, OneWeb’s CEO disclosed that the company’s order backlog had swollen to $800 million at the end of December 2022.
Starlink, on the other hand, provides different pricing points based on what plan a customer picks as well as the country they reside in. We keep an updated list of the prices Starlink charges for its residential plan here.
For example, consumers in the United States pay $90 to $120 per month for the Residential plan, plus $599 in one-time hardware fees. Plans like Roam (formerly called RV) or Portability add another $30 to the monthly subscription fee.
Starlink ultimately competes with OneWeb on the B2B front. It currently sells three different plans, namely Business, Maritime, and Aviation. They cost $250 (lowest tier), $1,000 (lowest tier), and $12,500 – $25,000 per month, respectively.
Additionally, most business customers will also need a high-performance dish, which costs another $2,500 (vs. the $10k that OneWeb charges).
OneWeb offers a Compact-Electronically Steered Antenna called OW1. It weighs around 10kg (versus the ~ 7kg for Starlink’s standard dishy) while being 25 percent smaller than Starlink’s dish.
The hardware itself was developed in collaboration with Intellian Technologies, Inc. and Collins Aerospace. Details about a router and cabling are yet to be disclosed.
Starlink, on the other side, offers a variety of different hardware sets, depending on your use case. Its standard set comes with an electronic phased array antenna, router, base on which the antenna can be mounted, and various cables.
Additionally, Starlink offers a high-performance antenna, which is largely aimed at business customers. Lastly, a flat high-performance dish is meant to maximize performance while on the go (thus relevant for RV customers).
OneWeb remains secretive about its performance levels for now. It likely continues to test and monitor in partnership with current beta customers.
The system does look promising, though. Back in July 2019, after deploying its six satellites, OneWeb said that it achieved download speeds of 400 Mbps and 32ms latency.
While the latency figure is likely an average, 400 Mbps is probably the best-case scenario and not representative of the average.
Keep in mind that OneWeb won’t service individual consumers, which means that network congestion issues won’t be as prevalent due to substantially lower access requests.
Starlink is able to offer download speeds of up to 220 Mbps (for its comparable Business tier) while latency can be as low as 15 ms.
Unfortunately, the reality hasn’t always matched expectations. In recent times, speed has been slowing significantly as more users are competing for bandwidth.
As a result, Starlink has also introduced temporary data caps while prioritizing network capacity for users on Residency and B2B plans.
To say that OneWeb has a troubled financial past is probably quite an understatement. The firm, after raising over $3 billion in funding, filed for bankruptcy in March 2020.
Four months later, it emerged out of that bankruptcy after a consortium led by Bharti Global and the Government of the United Kingdom each poured $500 million into OneWeb. The investment granted them an ownership stake of 42 percent each, with the rest going to previous backers like Softbank.
In July 2022, after additional funding rounds and a restructuring of its leadership, OneWeb merged with France’s Eutelsat. The deal valued OneWeb at $3.4bn (£2.8bn). Eutelsat stated that it expects a revenue increase of $2 billion by 2027 all thanks to OneWeb.
Looking at Starlink, it becomes evident why satellite constellations are such a costly undergoing. SpaceX founder Elon Musk stated in the past that it would require investments of $20 billion to $30 billion to deploy Starlink’s entire fleet.
However, he also said that positive cash flows could be reached with $5 billion to $10 billion in invested capital. That break-even point, given that Starlink already generates over $1 billion in annual revenue while growing at a rapid clip, doesn’t seem too far off either.
OneWeb is certainly the biggest competitor of Starlink when it comes to broadband internet services made possible by LEO constellations.
The fact that Starlink is owned by SpaceX, which itself is majority-owned by Musk, certainly gives it an awareness edge.
However, OneWeb could potentially provide faster download speeds since its network isn’t also used by a million+ consumers. We’ll be a lot smarter once its constellation is fully deployed.