A consortium that includes the UK government and India's Bharti Global has won the bid for London-based satellite operator OneWeb after it declared bankruptcy in March.
The UK government and Bharti will each invest $500 million in the satellite operator to build a satellite navigation system that can be used as an alternative to Galileo, a European Union satellite project, following Brexit. The transaction, subject to approval by the US Bankruptcy Court and other authorities, is likely to close by the fourth quarter of 2020.
Bharti Global – the owner of Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel – and the UK government will each hold 45% of the company, with existing creditors including Japan's SoftBank owning the remaining 10%.
OneWeb makes low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that are designed to help support affordable high-speed Internet connectivity.
"Bharti Airtel has its own extensive mobile broadband networks and enterprise business which will act as the testing ground for all OneWeb products, services and applications," said the press release issued by OneWeb.
Airtel is to use OneWeb's services in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where satellite-based connectivity can play a role in providing broadband services.
Supporters say LEO satellites will aid the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), especially in the agricultural and aviation sectors.
Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, India's digitalization of business activities, and the ongoing rollout of 4G services, may give a boost to industrial IoT in India. Airtel could rely partly on OneWeb's infrastructure to meet this demand.
Airtel has also indicated that it will use OneWeb LEO satellites to support affordable connectivity in remote and difficult-to-reach areas.
"OneWeb's platform will help to reduce the 'digital divide' by providing high-speed, low-latency broadband access to the poor and hard-to-reach rural areas," said Sunil Bharti Mittal, the chairman of Bharti Enterprises, in a statement. "A low-earth orbit constellation is the only viable mechanism through which the 'last billion' can be connected."
"As one of the largest telecoms operators in India and Africa, I know what a powerful social and economic enabler this can be," he added. "We will work with partners around the world to deliver this technology to those who need it the most."
Bharti was one of the founding members of OneWeb and initially had a strategic stake in the company.
OneWeb previously raised $3.3 billion in debt and equity financing from shareholders including SoftBank, Airbus and Qualcomm after its founding in 2012.
Bharti had also participated in a 2015 funding round for OneWeb along with other players including Qualcomm and Virgin Group.
OneWeb subsequently formed an alliance with Delta Airlines, Bharti Airtel and US telco Sprint to allow operators to provide wireless services in airplanes.
OneWeb today faces competition from Elon Musk's SpaceX Starlink project and Jeff Bezos's Amazon Project Kuiper.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading