Less than two weeks after pledging to invest up to $50 billion in U.S. tech startups and acquisitions, SoftBank Group chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son today announced $1 billion in funding for OneWeb. A Channel Islands-based company founded by a one-time Google employee, OneWeb aims to deploy a global network of satellites to provide broadband Internet access to underserved parts of the world.
With additional capital from other investors bringing its new round of funding to a total of $1.2 billion, OneWeb said it will use the money to build the "world's first and only high-volume satellite production facility" in Exploration Park, Florida. The company said it expects to begin production at that facility in 2018 and build 15 satellites per week at a much lower cost than any other manufacturer.
Among the other investors supporting OneWeb's mission are Qualcomm, Airbus Group, The Coca-Cola Company, the Virgin Group, Intelsat, Hughes Network Systems, Totalplay and Bharti Enterprises. Based in Japan and founded in 1981, the SoftBank Group owns Sprint and also has stakes in China's Alibaba Group.
'First Step' in SoftBank Commitment
SoftBank's investment in OneWeb comes on the heels of Son's Dec. 6 meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. Following that meeting, Son announced plans to invest as much as $50 billion with the goal of creating up to 50,000 tech jobs in the U.S.
"This is the first step in that commitment," Son said in a statement about the OneWeb investment. "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."
Founded by technology entrepreneur Greg Wyler, OneWeb said its goal is to bring Internet access to the billions of people around the world who are not yet online. Of the global population of nearly 7.5 billion, less than half -- around 3.2 billion -- has access to the Internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union.
Goal: Bridging the 'Digital Divide'
Before starting OneWeb, Wyler founded another Internet satellite company called O3b Networks, which was acquired by Google in 2013. Google is also working to deliver network connectivity to underserved regions via balloon through Project Loon, while Facebook is exploring the use of drones to provide Internet service around the world.
OneWeb's plan calls for the deployment of a "constellation" of 720 low-Earth orbit satellites for Internet service. The company said its solution will be able to deliver more than 10 terabits per second of new capacity. OneWeb is a "a tremendously exciting company poised to transform Internet access around the world," Son said in the statement.
"With this new round of funding and based on our rapid technical progress over the past year, we also announce a much larger goal: To fully bridge the Digital Divide by 2027, making Internet access available and affordable for everyone," Wyler wrote today on his company's Web site. "We will soon provide more details of our roadmap, which includes greater than 100x capacity growth from our first generation system, including Gigabit per second speeds, lower latencies, and affordable self-installed terminals."
Wyler said OneWeb plans to launch its first 10 production satellites in early 2018, with a full campaign for the remaining network starting six months later.