OneWeb, NEOM Form Joint Venture

If Your Futuristic City Doesn’t Have High-Speed Satellite Connectivity…Is it Really a Futuristic City?

NEOM and OneWeb have formed a $200M joint venture (JV) to bring satellite-based connectivity to the Middle East and nearby East African nations. OneWeb will partner with NEOM Tech & Digital Holdings Company, a newly formed subsidiary. 

…NEOM? The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has earmarked $500 billion for a desert mega-city, which is currently under development. NEOM’s first borough is slated to be completed by 2025. 

NEOM’s proposed site covers ~10,230 square miles—33x the size of NYC—in a northwestern Saudi province bordering the Red Sea. NEOM blueprints, seen by the WSJ in 2019, lay out ultra-ambitious visions for the smart-city state: flying taxis, robot butlers, all-seeing AI surveillance, geoengineering, and end-to-end connected infrastructure.

What’s the catch? Costs and KSA’s iron-fisted ruling class, to start. But for our purposes, focus on the tech challenges facing NEOM. The data-driven megacity will have enormous bandwidth requirements, in an area with minimal high-speed broadband penetration. 

  • The partnership will “transform businesses and rural communities in the region where access to fiber-like internet was previously unimaginable,” NEOM/OneWeb’s press readout states. 

Where OneWeb comes in: The company’s low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellation—over halfway complete—could help NEOM and KSA leapfrog more capital-intensive connectivity infrastructure buildouts. OneWeb, KSA’s only licensed satellite operator, will finish building Saudi ground stations in 2022 and launch commercially in 2023. 

Putting aside the many make-or-break variables that could determine NEOM’s fate, this partnership could still be a formative one for all parties involved. Once online, OneWeb’s service will likely be popular in under-connected parts of Saudi Arabia, neighboring Gulf states, and the wider region.