High Speed Internet is Coming to the Arctic

Polar explorers listen up! If you’ve been wondering exactly how you can stream Netflix while skiing to the North Pole, you may only have to wait another year to find out. Satellite Internet company OneWeb says that it will soon begin offering “fiber-like” service in the Arctic as it fills in its constellation of satellites in orbit.

OneWeb is one of several companies competing against one another in an effort to blanket much of the planet in fast, reliable Internet served up by satellites in orbit. To that end, OneWeb is launching as many as 650 satellites to bring its service online. Similar service is being planned by both SpaceX and Amazon, which plan to launch as many as 12,000 and 3200 satellites respectively.

But what makes OneWeb’s offering the most intriguing is that it plans to have its service up and running in 2020 and promises to offer service above the 60th parallel. That’s still a long way from the North Pole of course, but it does bring a high-speed option to a part of the world where fiber optic lines can’t be installed. How far north of 60º latitude the service will reach remains to be seen, but it does open the doors for some interesting communications methods from that remote corner of the world, not to mention opportunities for enhance research, weather and climate monitoring, and more.

So far, OneWeb has launched just six satellites, which is enough to conduct tests to make sure things are functioning as planned. The company says that those tests have allowed it to stream HD video from orbit with less than 40 milliseconds of latency. In non-technical terms, that’s pretty darn fast. How much it will cost to use the service has yet to be revealed, as is the receiving technology. But this kind of connectivity sure would make those lonely nights in a tent on the frozen Arctic Ocean much easier to bear. Imagine explorers being able to connect with friends and family back home over a video conference or check email and social media messaging at the end of a long, hard day. Of course, the purists amongst us will also lament what is lost, namely the solitude and seclusion that comes with an expedition to uncharted areas of the planet.

This is still a long way off, but with multiple companies striving to get their satellite constellations in orbit, it won’t be long before this high-speed Internet will be available for use by anyone who can afford it.