By Martin Coulter and Supantha Mukherjee
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Telecom operator Veon, which operates Ukraine's largest mobile network, has announced that it is partnering with British satellite firm OneWeb to improve connectivity in rural or disaster-prone areas.
The deal, one of the first cross-sector accords of its kind, will see OneWeb's satellites used to improve network coverage for Veon's customers, many of whom live in large areas with low-density populations, or are at a higher risk of disruption, such as Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Ukraine.
The announcement confirms Reuters' earlier reporting on the deal. Veon will use OneWeb’s services for emergency purposes, offsetting damage to networks on the ground and extending coverage to rural areas.
"We have always stated that our focus is 4G for all, and our partnership with OneWeb enables us to take that one step further," said Veon CEO Kaan Terzioglu.
Veon’s Ukrainian unit, Kyivstar, already works with Elon Musk’s Starlink to bolster coverage across the war-ravaged country. The two companies are still negotiating fees for the coming year, however, after governments and other entities paid for the service through spring 2023.
OneWeb terminals provide connectivity to hundreds of people, and can be hooked up to existing power supplies, or run on solar power or via generators. The company has around 550 low-orbit satellites and plans to launch dozens more with the help of Musk-owned SpaceX.
"With this partnership, we can support the development of telecoms and digital infrastructure in emerging markets, working with Veon to ensure the essential roll-out of mobile connectivity," OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said.
On Wednesday, OneWeb also announced it was partnering with fellow satellite firm Intelsat and telecom firm Sure South Atlantic to boost connectivity in the Falkland Islands and other British island territories.
French satellite firm Eutelsat is in the process of acquiring OneWeb, with the British government retaining a minority stake in the company.
(Reporting by Martin Coulter and Supantha Mukherjee; Editing by Sharon Singleton)