Interview: Eric Beranger, Chief Executive, OneWeb
March 22, 2017
LONDON — The chief executive of satellite internet startup OneWeb, which is building a constellation of some 800 satellites for global broadband coverage, said total capex requirements are evolving, as is the production cost of each OneWeb satellite.
Eric Beranger, who was named OneWeb CEO in July 2016, said OneWeb expected to reach the maritime market — a market not normally associated with the project — through clever use of nearby gateway Earth stations.
In remarks during the Satellite Finance Network Conference, Beranger urged the U.K. telecommunications regulator authority, Ofcom, to streamline its licensing process to set an example for the inevitable future constellations to come.
OneWeb is midway through the U.S. regulatory process but its home licensing country is the U.K. What can UK regulators do to facilitate things?
In OneWeb we are setting a precedent together with the UK government. What is happening right now is extremely important for all the players to make it right. The UK government will be the leader worldwide for the regulatory licensing of constellations. OneWeb is the most advanced of the constellations but we will not be the only one forever and here, the UK is giving itself a very important tool for what happens not only for us, but also for the others.
Doing it right is extremely important.
That means doing something sustainable for the UK government but also something that’s affordable on our side. Some of the topics we have to discuss is the overall cost and schedule of the licensing, and making it straightforward and easy enough for this new economic model to exist and to come to fruition to the benefits of all the economic players.
Your low-orbiting satellite constellation is distributed around the world and spends lots of time over oceans and uninhabited areas. Is this efficient?
We are bridging the digital divide globally. When OneWeb comes into service, anyone will be able to be anywhere in the world — including at sea and in the air — and be able to use computers, phones and whatever data and voice or multimedia application they would use if they were in this room or in your office or at home.
This is what we are addressing in terms of market.
With respect to what we consider to be our market, the 4 billion people today who do not have access to broadband internet today will need to use it everywhere in the world.
We have made precise assumptions about how many people and what types of applications there are around the Earth — and by the way there are more and more people on the oceans as well.
We have looked precisely at what our market could be in each of the zones we are flying over, and you will see the result when we come on line.
How does a boat in the Pacific get OneWeb?
Very easily. We have simple terminals that are very easy to use.
But how does the signal get landed? You don’t have intersatellite links.
We have a network of gateway Earth stations that are cleverly distributed, in such a way that to this user it will be exactly like using a normal landline.
Gateways in the ocean?
In the oceans, there are islands. This is again a matter of designing our network in a clever way and distributing our gateways in a way to get the coverage.
You have 10 satellites in production in Toulouse, France, that are to launch in 12 months — March 2018 — on a Europeanized Russian Soyuz rocket?
Then five months after that you begin regular launches of 32 satellites per Soyuz from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome?
It will be a little more than five months, but before the end of the year.
Do you still foresee about $3.5 billion in capex?
This figure is not something I want to discuss.
Its a figure that has been publicized so it’s out there.
It’s very nice that this figure has been out there.
Each of your satellites has a launch weight of about 150 kilograms?
And will cost you less than $500,000 per satellite at full run rate?
This is the order of magnitude. To be clear, there were figures published before my time about the target cost per satellite. I wouldn’t use those figures now.
You’ve raised $1.7 billion in equity after the SoftBank-led round of $1.2 billion. You’re UK-registered, with design and early production in France and mass production in Florida. The U.S. Export-Import Bank is still closed for large loans. Is that a problem?
It is not a showstopper for us. We have many potential debt sources and we are working on our debt financing, having closed our equity rounds. We are indeed working with some export-credit agencies but not only them. We have a lot of interest expressed even for pretty large amounts and we are progressing on the structuring of this debt financing.
Are you under pressure of time now that the central banks are more likely to raise interest rates?
So far the parameters are still good.
Peter B. de Selding