Airbus will distribute connectivity services from the OneWeb low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation for military and government customers. The distribution agreement signed this week allows Airbus to add the LEO capacity to its existing portfolio of options for select European and UK armed forces, and civil protection and security forces, from the end of 2021.
With the OneWeb LEO constellation we can offer military customers real flexibility as we look to deliver the future integrated mesh networks, combat cloud and information superiority that demand these new and innovative approaches. –Evert Dudok, Executive Vice President of Connected Intelligence at Airbus Defense and Space
As with any satellite operation, getting to profitability means filling the capacity from a variety of sources. The breadth of demand from European defense and security agencies around the globe will help OneWeb reach that goal.
The pair plan to develop a “complete range of secure services dedicated to the specific needs of armed forces for all their operations on land, at sea, and in the air.” This includes the next generation of terminals and antennae, making it possible to bring more devices on to the all-IP network. Customers can prioritize communications flows just like they do through terrestrial networks today, but with the advantage of a near-global footprint.
OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson notes that the service will launch in the Arctic – the network is currently available north of the 50th parallel – before extending to global use cases.
As a managed service from Airbus the new communications will augment existing services and networks. This includes the ability to switch between LEO and GEO (Geostationary orbit) satellite communications throughout operations to derive the benefits of a flexible and interoperable network.
OneWeb VP Mobility Ben Griffin suggested earlier this year that interoperability was a compelling facet of the network as the company seeks to attract commercial airline customers on to the constellation:
Coming out of the pandemic and putting all your chips on an unknown horse is probably risky. So, we see it as a way of diluting that risk from [the airline’s] perspective and easing our way into the market. But as far as we’re concerned, LEO-only is more than capable, [delivering] much more capacity and capability that anyone will ever need.
And once people get used to that and the passengers and their applications are firing on all cylinders all over the OneWeb LEO network I expect [GEO dependence] to diminish over time. It’s sort of like a baby letting go of the pacifier. It is that comfort blanket. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to like it but I’m not quite ready to bet my house on it.’
Over the summer Griffin expanded on that idea, noting that even with the LEO constellation online “we’re not going to expect everyone to ground aircraft, rip GEO kit off and put ours on.” In the back half of the decade, however, Griffin is “fairly confident in a good up-take of LEO services” with the new constellations taking over the majority of aviation-related traffic.
That the Airbus/OneWeb partnership includes support for in-flight aircraft only helps to demonstrate that functionality for the commercial segment.
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