Global combined L- and Ku-band on the horizon with Iridium and OneWeb tie-up

Leading satellite communications providers Iridium and OneWeb have announced a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which will see the two companies working together towards a combined offering.

Iridium and OneWeb Collaboration
Iridium and OneWeb have signed an MoU. Photo: Iridium

Announced this week, the MoU will bring together the two services of the satellite operators. It was signed at Iridium’s annual partner conference in California, where the company also snagged a sizeable $738.5m award from the US Department of Defense, covering an unprecedented seven years of operations.

Collaboration instead of competition

While OneWeb and Iridium are generally targeting a similar customer demographic with their services, the two companies don’t exactly compete against one another. This is because, despite their similarities, both being a very different product to the table.

Iridium next
Both operate LEO satellites but using different frequencies. Photo: Iridium

Although both operate low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, the capabilities of each service is quite different. While Iridium LEO satellites use the L-band, OneWeb’s service is based on Ku-band capabilities. While the OneWeb Ku-band delivers high-speed connectivity for big demands in date, Iridium’s L-band adds the power of truly global connectivity and weather resilience.

Combined, the two services will be able to offer a highly complementary service, and promise to bring perhaps the most comprehensive coverage and capabilities of any service to date. It’s the first time any LEO operators have instigated a collaboration to  bring together the capabilities of these two network types.

Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb said in a press release,

“We believe our new offering can bring many benefits for our distribution partners. By combining the strengths of our services, we can ensure our partners are able to deliver the most innovative, seamless services to their subscribers across many markets, and in all the places that don’t yet have access to the internet.”

What will the partnership look like?

Although the two companies are still working out the details of the new partnership, there is a great promise coming out of this MoU for more than just a service that leverages both Ku- and L-band connectivity.

One web factory
OneWeb has begun mass producing satellites in a huge Florida facility. Photo: OneWeb / Twitter

Speaking to Space News, Dylan Browne, OneWeb’s vice president of government, noted that some of the partnership outcomes being discussed included combined physical products, commercial approaches and operational back office solutions.

Iridium CEO, Matt Desch, said in a press release that,

“It’s an exciting time for the industry, and we see great potential for this offering. Our services are unique and complementary, and we know that customers are looking for the capabilities of both our low-Earth-orbiting networks.”

Iridium has recently completed the $3bn upgrade of its satellite constellation, a mission known as Iridium NEXT. It’s product, Iridium Certus, is live, but not yet in use by aviation. However, some providers have been selected and commercial service is expected to be launched later this year.

OneWeb’s constellation has already got the first six satellites in place, with pretty impressive test results already coming back of 400Mbps and just a 32ms latency. Having begun mass production of the satellites earlier this summer, the company plans to start mass launching around 30 satellites at a time from December onwards. Service will be partially available in late 2020, with global coverage complete in 2021.

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