UK-based company hopes to offer 'fibre-like' internet through satellites to Arctic

A UK-based telecommunications company is targeting communities above the 60th parallel as the first to be brought online in its mission to create a global high-speed network.

OneWeb hopes to launch a satellite internet service by the end of 2020

A rocket launched by CNES, the French National Centre for Space Studies, in February carries a OneWeb satellite to place into orbit. The satellite network is expected to bring high-speed "fibre-like" internet across the Arctic by the end of 2020. (© ESA-CNES-ARIANESPACE / Optique vidéo du CSG)

A UK-based telecommunications company is planning to launch hundreds of satellites in an effort to provide worldwide broadband internet service, and Arctic communities will be some of the first to benefit.

OneWeb already launched some satellites in February, and a representative for the company said they are performing better than expected. The ultimate goal is to create a satellite constellation that will be fully operational starting in 2021. 

"It's not ... the satellite communications that some people are used to where there was a delay when you were talking on the phone or you hit 'enter' on a link and waited for the page to load," said Diego Paldao, director of OneWeb for the Americas.

"We're talking about fibre-like experience ... That's going to be sort of revolutionary for folks."

A model of the OneWeb constellation: a 650-satellite constellation, currently under construction. (Submitted by OneWeb)

OneWeb already has a connection to the Canadian Arctic through satellite dishes at the Canadian Satellite Ground Station in Inuvik.

Many communities in the Arctic have slow and costly internet. Although the Mackenzie Valley Fibre link has brought faster and more reliable internet from Fort Simpson to Inuvik, other places in the N.W.T. stand to benefit "substantially" from this service, according to Tom Zubko, president of New North Networks, which manages Inuvik's satellite station.

He named places like Sachs Harbour and Ulukhaktok as examples.

Diego Paldao, director of the Americas for OneWeb. (John Burwell Photography/OneWeb)

"It really is going to change connectivity across North and you know across the world really in so many ways," he said.

Paldao said historically, the Arctic has been "at the mercy of whatever [internet] they could get." Now, he says, because OneWeb's constellation involves polar orbiting satellites, his company's technology will be available in Arctic communities first.

The goal is to launch an internet service across the circumpolar North, including Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, by the end of 2020.

He said schools are a huge priority for the company, and he wants to make it easier for students to have access to resources like E-learning.

OneWeb plans to launch 30 to 36 more satellites to its current constellation in December.

Staff build OneWeb satellites to be launched into orbit. (Dominique Eskenazi/OneWeb)