This week satellite broadband provider OneWeb announced it had secured an additional $500 million from Bharti Global, bringing its total post-bankruptcy funding raise to $2.4 billion. The company says it is now financially secure with no issued debt.
“OneWeb represents a unique opportunity for investors at a key moment in the commercialisation of Space,” said OneWeb’s Executive Chairman, Sunil Bharti Mittal. “With its Global ITU LEO Spectrum priority, Telco partnerships, successful launch momentum and reliable satellites, OneWeb is ready to serve the vital needs of high-speed broadband connectivity for those who have been left behind. Nation states can accelerate their universal service obligations, Telcos, their backhaul and Enterprise and Governments can serve remote installations.”
Bharti exerted a call option under the existing shareholders agreement to invest the additional $500 million, with the completion of the option expected to be completed in the second half of 2021 assuming regulatory approvals. Once the deal is complete, Bharti will hold 38.6 percent of OneWeb, with the UK government, Eutelsat and Softbank each owning 19.3 percent of the company. The final shareholder structure is subject to change if one of the members of the group chooses to exercise a part of the call option.
The funding announcement comes on the same week OneWeb expects to conduct its eighth launch on July 1, delivering another set of satellite to complete its “5 for 50” five launch campaign to put up enough satellite into orbit for providing broadband coverage from the Arctic region down to 50 degrees latitude. OneWeb plans to conduct 10 additional satellite launches through 2022 to provide global connectivity next year with a total of 648 satellites in its phase one constellation.
Also this week, OneWeb and terrestrial phone company BT signed a MOU to look at using OneWeb services to provide improved broadband connectivity to “some of the hardest to reach parts of the UK,” according to a June 27 press release.
“Our ambitious full fiber and mobile commitments have put BT at the forefront of efforts to expand digital connectivity across the UK,” said Philip Jansen, Chief Executive, BT. “It is clear that greater partnership is needed, both with Government and within industry, to ensure connectivity can reach every last corner of the country. Our agreement with OneWeb is an important step to understanding how that goal could be achieved in the future.”
Give the UK government’s substantial investment in OneWeb, it should not be surprising to see BT and OneWeb exploring options for satellite connectivity. There had been reports in the spring SpaceX was in talks with the UK government to receive subsidies for providing broadband to rural households using its Starlink satellite broadband service.