Wednesday 14 July 2021 9:47 am

BT sets sights on Elon Musk’s SpaceX after Oneweb satellite deal

BT is eyeing up a deal with Elon Musk’s SpaceX as the telecoms giant looks to adopt satellite technology to roll out the UK’s next-generation broadband network.

The blue-chip group has already inked an agreement with British firm Oneweb to explore how satellites could be used to beam internet services to rural areas that are too difficult or expensive to reach through cable networks.

BT’s chief technology officer Howard Watson today said that Oneweb had been the first to approach with a wholesale offer, but said the company would “love” to extend to other operators.

Space X is the biggest rival to Oneweb, which was rescued from bankruptcy last year by the government and Indian billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal.

Musk has said he is ready to pump $30bn (£22bn) into his Starlink network of low-orbit satellites, which he said was “growing rapidly”.

Starlink currently has more than 1,500 satellites orbiting earth and is operating in roughly a dozen countries.

Oneweb has launched around 250 satellites and is aiming to establish its first constellation of 648 satellites by the end of next year.

The move into satellite technology comes as BT ramps up its efforts to roll out full-fibre broadband across the country. The telecoms giant recently hiked its target to 25m premises by the end of 2026.

“Satellite has long been touted as a solution to bringing broadband to the hardest to reach parts of the country, but has often failed to live up to expectations given costs and problems with latency,” said Matthew Howett, principal analyst at Assembly Research, who added that the lower orbit of Oneweb and Starlink’s satellites “should go some way to reducing problems of latency”.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see partnerships emerge with others such as Starlink given BT and others will be looking for innovative ways to reach those remaining premises as part of their wider upgrade of the nation’s infrastructure.”

It came as BT also announced plans to expand its 5G network through EE to 90 per cent of the UK landmass by 2028 and bring together its mobile, wifi and full-fibre services into a fully-converged network by the middle of the decade.

“Fast and reliable digital connectivity is crucial to our plan to build back better so I warmly welcome BT intensifying its plans to boost rural mobile coverage and speed up the roll out of revolutionary 5G,” said digital minister Matt Warman.