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Hughes to plow $50M into OneWeb

Hughes Network Systems will play a part in keeping OneWeb's broadband satellite dreams aloft by investing $50 million into a consortium that is acquiring the troubled company out of bankruptcy.

Hughes, a unit of Charlie Ergen's EchoStar that was among OneWeb's early tech partners, will also continue as a tech and distribution partner for OneWeb. OneWeb launched 74 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites (toward an initial goal of about 600) before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.

This latest form of the partnership will allow Hughes to retain some essential business connections. In November 2017, Hughes inked a $190 million deal with OneWeb for the production of a ground network system to support the startup's LEO constellation. London-based Hughes Europe and its sister company EchoStar Mobile also have a previous working relationship with the UK government.

Hughes' continued participation and investment in OneWeb comes a few weeks after the UK government and Bharti Global announced they would acquire OneWeb out of bankruptcy and each invest $500 million. That deal, which also aims to build a satellite navigation system as an alternative to the European Union's Galileo satellite project, is expected to close by Q4 2020.

Hughes's investment is also entering the picture as one of its subsidiaries, Hughes Communications India, and Bharti Airtel move on a plan announced last year to combine their satellite broadband operations in India.

Hughes' investment and involvement in the OneWeb buying group will enable the Englewood, Colo.-based company to maintain efforts involving LEO-based broadband satellites and build on its existing fleet of geosynchronous (GEO) satellites that help power the HughesNet high-speed satellite Internet service.

"This global consortium brings the right players together to fulfill the promise of the OneWeb constellation in deploying low-latency services for communities, enterprises, governments, airplanes and ships – complementing geostationary connectivity and ushering in the new era of multi-transport services that will serve growing bandwidth demand around the world," Hughes President Pradman Kaul said in a statement.

While Elon Musk's ambitious Starlink broadband satellite initiative is focused on a deployment of thousands of low-latency LEO satellites, multi-orbit constellations are becoming more the norm. SES, for example, has a plan underway to establish a cloud-connected platform of GEO and medium-Earth orbit (MEO) satellites, along with the potential to add some LEO satellites to the mix as well.

Before filing for bankruptcy in March and pursuing a sale, OneWeb said it was in advanced negotiations to fund it through deployment and commercial launch. Those talks were stymied by the financial impact and market turbulence wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

OneWeb's initial fleet of satellites were shown to deliver download speeds of about 400 Mbit/s with a latency of about 32 milliseconds, putting it on a path to compete with the performance of some terrestrial wired and wireless networks.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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