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Virgin and Qualcomm Back OneWeb's Satellite Venture

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Billionaire businessman Richard Branson says that his Virgin Group is investing in OneWeb's multibillion-dollar plan to provide global satellite-based Internet access — and that Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne system will put OneWeb's satellites into orbit. In a Thursday blog posting, Branson said Qualcomm would be the other initial investor in OneWeb.

OneWeb, which was founded by telecom entrepreneur Greg Wyler, issued an announcement about the deal as well. Wyler previously started up O3b Networks, and he's been seeking support for the satellite venture from potential backers ranging from Google to SpaceX's Elon Musk. Just this week, Musk announced that a newly established Seattle engineering office would work on a satellite development project. SpaceX could be a potential collaborator in the OneWeb venture — or a competitor.

Other unanswered questions relate to the financial terms of the OneWeb deal, and the timetable for production and launch of hundreds of satellites. The initial investment for a 648-satellite constellation will hover around $2 billion, Branson told CNBC.

The market for low-cost, available-anywhere broadband could be huge: Experts estimate that more than half of the world's population lacks Internet access. "It was great to see President Obama announcing new steps to help more Americans access better broadband," Branson said in Thursday's posting. "This project will take that goal further."

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