Making good on a recent pledge to invest $50 billion in U.S. telecommunications and technology start-up firms, SoftBank of Japan agreed Monday to pay $1 billion for a 40% stake in OneWeb Ltd., a fledgling U.S. venture with plans to deploy a constellation of 640 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites that would expand broadband connectivity worldwide by the early 2020s. Founded in 2012, Arlington, Virginia-based OneWeb is raising $1.2 billion toward the construction of a plant in Florida that would produce the company’s fleet of satellites, each of which is projected to cost less than $1 million. Owing to its investment, which values OneWeb at $2.5 billion, SoftBank would emerge as the largest stakeholder in the venture. Additional funds for the Florida plant project will be contributed by OneWeb's remaining investors which include Qualcomm, Airbus, and Boeing.
While the proposed OneWeb network is not the first that would use LEO satellites to provide Internet services on a global scale, the company hopes that recent advances in small satellite technology combined with the introduction of streamlined manufacturing procedures will keep down the cost of production and deployment and will also result in lower costs for subscribers. As he declared that the goal of OneWeb is to fully bridge the digital divide by 2027, “making Internet access available and affordable for everyone,” OneWeb Chairman Greg Wyler further affirmed that OneWeb intends to play a key role in the expansion of the Internet of Things while ensuring that all U.S. schools have Internet access by 2022.
Meanwhile, in a press statement explaining his company’s investment, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son proclaimed that, “for connected cars, we need connectivity [and] for the Internet of Things, we need connectivity, so OneWeb is the best way to connect the entire world.” As Son further touted OneWeb as “a key strategic investment for us to connect many of our portfolio companies,” Wyler anticipated that OneWeb will launch its first ten satellites on a test basis in early 2018 with the goal of bringing its satellite network into operation the following year.