SoftBank leads OneWeb's $1.2B fundraising round

OneWeb has raised $1.2 billion in its quest to deploy a satellite network to provide wireless web access in rural areas and emerging markets.

SoftBank led investors, pouring $1 billion into the startup in a round that valued OneWeb at $2.5 billion. Existing investors provided an additional $200 million.

OneWeb hopes to manage a network of more than 600 satellites in 18 polar orbit planes at 750 miles above the earth, lower than most other satellites. The constellation will transmit in the 12 GHz to 18 GHz band of spectrum, reportedly generating 6 gigabits per second of throughput, communicating with a phased array antenna network on the ground to provide web access at 50 megabits per second.

The company in October was recognized in FierceWireless’s Fierce 15, which profiled 15 of the most interesting startups in the wireless industry. OneWeb is based in Arlington, Virginia, and claims roughly 200 full-time employees, although 300 more engineers from partners are said to be working on the project full-time.

The move marks the first major investment from SoftBank in the U.S. since Donald Trump announced earlier this month that the company would invest $50 billion in American businesses in an effort to create 50,000 jobs. SoftBank is the parent company of Sprint, and many industry insiders expect it to pursue a merger with T-Mobile under the incoming Trump administration.

“SoftBank has a long history of investing in disruptive, foundational technologies that promise to help us realize the future sooner,” SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said in a press release. “Earlier this month I met with President-elect Trump and shared my commitment to investing and creating jobs in the U.S. This is the first step in that commitment. America has always been at the forefront of innovation and technological development and we are thrilled to be playing a part in continuing to drive that growth as we work to create a truly globally connected ecosystem.”

OneWeb’s existing investors include Airbus Group, Bharti, Coca Cola, Hughes, Virgin Group and Qualcomm, and the latest round brought its total fundraising to $1.7 billion. The company was founded by Greg Wyler, who was in Rwanda in the 1990s during the horrific genocide.

“Rwandans lacked infrastructure for communication, so Wyler built a small network enabling access to emergency services,” OneWeb Communications Designer Chris Torres told FierceWireless several weeks ago. “The difficulty in setting up a reliable cellular network in those types of conditions was enormous, but the need so basic. OneWeb hopes to solve that problem providing affordable connectivity on a global basis using its satellite constellation.”

The startup hopes its massive scale will enable it to achieve a target cost of $500,000 per satellite, and its entire architecture is expected to cost from $1.5 billion to $2 billion. OneWeb plans to sell its services to governments and mobile network operators looking to complement existing terrestrial-based offerings. It also plans to market its offering as an alternative to terrestrial networks during natural disasters and other emergency scenarios. It hopes to begin to launch its system in 2018 and deploy services beginning in 2019.