How OneWeb LEO connectivity can help bridge the digital divide

remote connectivity digital divide

In 2020, the world embraced digital transformation at an expedited pace, reimagining technology’s critical role in how we work, learn and live. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminated a long-standing issue: businesses operating in remote and rural areas were being left behind and a digital divide was growing.  

Even before the pandemic, a survey conducted by the National Farmers’ Union at the end of 2019 showed that 90 per cent of farmers believed high-speed broadband was essential for their business. A further 26 per cent reported that slow connectivity had been a barrier to further use of digital solutions. 

The challenge for many remote businesses and industries was that many of them couldn’t take advantage of the digital transformation due to slow fixed broadband and mobile connectivity. A recent survey by the FSB in the UK found that;  

  • 30% of small rural businesses received download speeds of less than 10Mbps 
  • 40% of respondents said the speeds they received were insufficient for their current needs 
  • 57% of small businesses experiencing unreliable voice connectivity. 


The global outlook is even more dire.According to an International Telecommunication Union report, in the developed world the internet penetration rate is 87% but just 47% in developing countries and 19% in the least developed countries. 

Can fixed-line connectivity address the digital divide challenge? 

High-quality broadband connectivity is vital to economic growth and social cohesion. Development in providing not just the basic of connections but also higher throughputs to many across the globe are slowly taking shape, supported by ongoing modernisation of fixed and mobile networks. Despite this fact and the advancements in recent times, there are still so many who experience poor, slow and unreliable connectivity.  

In the UK rural areas despite being offered a range of connectivity options, face reduced speeds, too, with 2020’s average speeds in rural England standing at 51 Mbits/sec versus the urban figure of 84 Mbits/sec, relying on an ageing copper network to provide the final connection to premises.  

Comprehensive broadband and mobile connectivity would enable rural businesses to carry out their everyday business with full confidence. Businesses may need to be able to access customers online, through websites and social media, and use digital tools such as accounting software. An ever increasing number of government services are being made available online, with some of them essential for businesses to access. In addition it would allow innovation to take place, adopting technologies such as cloud computing applications and Artificial Intelligence, which can enable a business to grow and become more productive. 

In order to continue addressing these issues and provide essential services, co-operation and collaboration across all connectivity technology is essential. 

What can satellite connectivity do to bridge the digital divide 

Satellite connectivity is no longer the last resort for providing reliable and affordable solutions to all manor of industries and there are numerous offerings available that are helping to tackle the global digital divide.  Low-latency satellite connectivity is a game-changer. It provides more immediate access to data for critical decisions, cloud connectivity, real-time analytics, and IoT applications, enabling easy remote access for all.  

LEO satellite connection’s dependable, adaptable mobile backhaul capability can help close the digital divide by bringing 4G/5G mobile connectivity to rural areas and enhancing network resilience in areas where more capacity is needed. 

A study by EY in 2021 showed that 33% of SMEs nationwide would be open to considering satellite broadband as a primary connection — if full-fibre broadband was not available at their business site.  

Those same SME’s, this time around 31%, also realised that satellite connectivity can also play a key role as a back-up solution in case of network outages.  

Digitalising remote operations  

It’s not just people who can struggle with remote connectivity, IoT devices that find themselves in the middle of a field or in a distant factory will struggle, and anyone who has tried to make a phone call in the middle of nowhere will understand the issue. 

When installing IoT devices far away from communication infrastructure, engineers may have potential solutions for getting the information from their devices however the cost and potential high-energy usage makes them prohibitive. 

LEO satellite connectivity provided by OneWeb though, allows for constant coverage while having satellites at a much lower altitude. This reduces latency, higher bandwidth and increases the amount of use cases for IoT solutions in remote environments.   

Closing the Digital Divide 

In order to increase online access for individuals in the most remote regions and advance universal connectivity goals, LEO satellite broadband can play a crucial role in expanding the reach and resilience of connectivity. OneWeb was launched with the aim of removing barriers to connectivity that are holding economies and communities back.  

Whether acting as a primary or back-up connectivity solution, OneWeb can help stop remote communities, businesses and organisations from being left behind. By working in partnership with AST, OneWeb can provide fast, flexible, secure, cost-effective, next-generation connectivity solutions and help close that digital divide.  

OneWeb White Paper

An economical means of bridging the digital divide – OneWeb White Paper

Some of the most compelling reasons for the satellite and broader aerial connectivity push are clear: the size and persistence of the digital divide, and connectivity barriers for businesses operating in rural or remote areas. It can be easy to forget that on a global scale, mobile internet penetration is only 50%. This means around 3.7 billion people (or 3 billion adults) remain offline, most of whom reside in India, China, Africa and a handful of populous lower-income Asian countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia. OneWeb estimate 25% of this unconnected population – approximately 780 million people – live outside of range of a 3G or 4G signal.

The OneWeb White Paper lays out the case for how the digital divide can be bridged.

Connecting from the sky – Reinventing the final frontier