OneWeb executive chair Sunil Bharti Mittal identified mobile backhaul as one of the most-important markets for the satellite company, one he told journalists gives it an edge over low Earth orbit (LEO) rival SpaceX as it moves into the commercial phase of its operations.

In a briefing to commemorate the completion of OneWeb’s constellation, Mittal conceded SpaceX’s Starlink service is the company’s closest-rival, but noted the Elon Musk-backed operator is focused more on the consumer sector than the broad focus of the company his Bharti Enterprises business helped to rescue in 2020 along with the UK government.

Mittal (pictured, right) noted Bharti Airtel’s unit in Africa alone spends $40 million per year on mobile backhaul, an example of the potential market on a global scale. The satellites used are typically geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) birds, an expensive option requiring larger ground stations than LEO and, in turn more power, he explained as he inevitably talked-up the potential of OneWeb’s constellation.

He told Mobile World Live (MWL) OneWeb is already generating “several” millions of dollars per month in revenue with a service limited to a range of 50-degrees north.

Completing the constellation means it can cover “every square inch” of the world, he explained.

Mittal noted a need for “lightweight user terminals”, but told MWL the overall market opportunity will ultimately stand at more than $1 billion and noted the company is now ready for its first full year of revenue generation.

OneWeb’s launch of a further 36 satellites yesterday (26 March) brought its constellation to 618, of which 588 are required for commercial service.

A further 30 birds are scheduled to launch by end-June to add to its back-up.

The global coverage will help close the digital divide, a matter Mittal argued has become more pressing as the online economy has taken off.

Mittal noted LEO offers low-latency, making it better-suited to provide “high-speed” broadband internet connectivity than GEO, citing opportunities in the “maritime industry, oil rigs, aircraft”, a sector where he said testing had delivered “absolutely stunning” results.

In terms of geography, Mittal sees some of the greatest opportunities in Latin America and Africa. He said OneWeb is in talks with “multiple players” in these markets, with “many ground stations already in place”.

Talks are also underway to deliver connectivity to global communities with the greatest need, along with defence departments in India and the US, among others.

There are also discussions with “OTT players for cloud backup” because, ironically, OneWeb’s service isn’t affected by real clouds or “natural disasters”.

Mittal noted OneWeb is already planning the launch of its second generation of satellites which will require fresh funding, but explained a pending tie-up with Eutelsat “mitigates the need for any more capital”.

The collaboration also includes plans for a secondary listing, the timing of which “will be decided in the coming months”.