OneWeb’s satellite communications services are going to be more broadly available to military customers in hard-to-reach regions, including ships at sea, according to a new partnership with US defense contractor Peraton. Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications, according to Nate White, Peraton’s vice president (VP) and the general manager (GM) of communications, “is a game-changing capacity for defense, maritime, aviation, and other customers operating in distant situations outside of typical network coverage zones.”
Peraton is an integrator of systems that offers government-managed satcom services. Integrators are regularly used by the Pentagon to connect networks from various manufacturers. Similar services are provided by Leonardo DRS Global Enterprise Solutions. The US military, according to White, prefers network services that include satellites in geosynchronous, medium, and low orbits. He pointed out that until OneWeb went up, Iridium was the only LEO-centered satellite service accessible to the military and that low-latency communications are in high demand.
“Military clients want almost the same convenience as a cell phone, with a single interface to numerous networks, so we’re striving to be able to achieve that so they don’t have to buy from various service providers,” he added. The US Army, which has forces deployed in places with poor telecom infrastructure, accounts for the majority of military demand for satellite communications. According to White, the Navy is increasingly looking for increased satcom capacity for the ships at sea. “With OneWeb, you get a lot more bandwidth. Because LEO satellites do not have the 300 milliseconds round trip disruptions that GEO satellites do, you can hold a conversation or transfer data at speeds closer to that of a wired network.” OneWeb’s projected constellation of about 648 satellites is nearly half-completed. Since emerging from bankruptcy in the month of November and continuing to grow its network, Alaska Communications, BT, AT&T, Hughes Network Systems, Northwestel, and recently Peraton have struck worldwide strategic agreements and distribution partnerships.
The business will begin at the 50th parallel and above this year, with global coverage expected in 2022. The Coast Guard and the Navy are expected to incorporate LEO services into existing satcom contracts, according to White. When at sea and in need of extra bandwidth, the maritime forces mostly rely on Inmarsat. “You’ll be able to link a ship as much as one gigabit for every second of connectivity while at sea” with the new LEO systems, he said. “Now you’re talking about giving sailors access to live streaming on Netflix. The wide-open ocean is covered by only a few providers.”
The user terminals are one of the hurdles in incorporating LEO satcom into the military. The military faces a logistical challenge because current terminals are not compatible with multiple satcom operators.