Bharti Airtel, the UK purchase bankrupt LEO satellite operator
The joint purchase will allow OneWeb to complete construction of a global satellite constellation
India’s Bharti Enterprises and the U.K. government have jointly purchased the bankrupt London-based satellite operator OneWeb. Both buyers will invest about $500 million in the satellite operator, and the U.K. government will reportedly hold a 45% stake in OneWeb. OneWeb confirmed the transaction via Twitter on Friday.
OneWeb was founded in 2012 and constructs low-Earth orbit satellites that provide high-speed communications. So far, the company has launched 74 satellites, with a total of 648 planned. It also has Virginia-based operations in the U.S.
We are excited to announce that a consortium of @beisgovuk & Bharti Global have committed to provide more than USD$1 billion to acquire OneWeb and fund the full restart of our business operations. (1/7)
— OneWeb (@OneWeb) July 3, 2020
The infusion of funds will allow OneWeb to complete the construction of a global satellite constellation that intends to provide enhanced broadband and other services to mobile and fixed terminals in countries around the world.
Following Brexit, the European Union has barred OneWeb from accessing Galileo, its satellite navigation system. The U.K. is keen to support OneWeb because it would allow the region to form a new national alternative to provide similar services — although OneWeb was designed for broadband services rather than global positioning.
Specifically, while Galileo’s free and open signals remain accessible to the U.K., the more secure, PRS signals, which are used by military and government agencies, are only available to member states.
In 2015, Bharti participated in a funding round for OneWeb along with other notable companies like Qualcomm. According to reports, the telecoms provider will bring commercial and operational leadership to the project and its network will act as the testing ground for OneWeb’s new products and services.
OneWeb has stiff competition in the satellite market, going up against big names in the industry like Jeff Bezos’s Amazon-linked Project Kuipen and Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink project, which now reportedly includes enough launched satellites to provide minimal internet coverage.
But financial trouble for the company has centered the roughly $3.3 billion debt it acquired from shareholders, including SoftBank, since its inception. Further, the company cited market turbulence from the COVID-19 pandemic as resulting in insufficient funds.
Ultimately, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy on March 27, and the auction for its purchase was held last Thursday in the U.S.
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