BT and OneWeb reach for stars on rural broadband

BT Openreach

BT has signed an agreement with OneWeb, the taxpayer-backed satellite operator, aimed at improving rural broadband in a deal that pitches the venture against Elon Musk’s Starlink.

Britain’s largest telecoms group will explore how satellite technology can improve services in remote areas. The partnership will also aim to develop new opportunities overseas for BT’s customers.

The industry is under pressure from the government to improve the speed and reliability of broadband, including in rural areas where investment can be more costly and problematic.

Last month BT said it was accelerating the expansion of Openreach’s full-fibre broadband infrastructure, increasing its programme by 5 million premises, including 1.5 million in rural areas, to a target of reaching 25 million by December 2026. OneWeb was bailed out by the government last year, when it paid £400 million for a stake in the company as part of a consortium with Bharti Global, of India. Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief adviser, had identified satellite communications as a priority after Brexit.

OneWeb, based in London, is setting up a constellation of low-orbit satellites designed to help provide affordable and fast communications services.

Musk’s Starlink has launched more than 1,800 satellites and has begun testing the broadband service in the UK after receiving a licence in November from Ofcom, the regulator.

Philip Jansen, BT’s chief executive, said it was “clear that greater partnership is needed, both with government and within industry, to ensure connectivity can reach every last corner of the country”.