Twenty years after launching mobile telephone services in India, Sunil Mittal took a giant leap to connect the next billion users through a constellation of satellites, possibly gaining a headstart in Indian telecom’s race towards 5G mobile networks. A consortium led by Bharti Enterprises has won 45% stake the bid for OneWeb, a bankrupt firm that makes satellites in the UK and the US. Bharti had bid jointly with the UK government for the auction. They would invest around $500 million each to acquire OneWeb, which had declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
The move may help the consortium to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink in beaming high-speed internet from space. For telecom major Bharti, it’s also a step towards easy internet connectivity in the hinterland.
The consortium has offered to invest $1 Bn in the British company that went bankrupt in March 2020, while it was trying to build a constellation of satellites to deliver wireless broadband globally.
Both Bharti Enterprises and the British government will invest $500 Mn each in OneWeb, once touted as a competitor for Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon-linked Project Kuiper.
The British government will take a significant equity stake in the company, UK business secretary Alok Sharma said in a statement. Meanwhile, Bharti Enterprises. Which is making the investment through its overseas arm Bharti Global, will be in charge of providing commercial and operational leadership. While it was not revealed how much stake both investors will be getting in the company, sources told Economic Times that both would own 45% equity in the company, while the remaining 10% will remain with existing shareholders.
OneWeb was founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Greg Wyler. It had raised about $3.3 billion in debt and equity from a clutch of investors such as SoftBank, Airbus, Qualcomm, Coca Cola, Intelsat and Grupo Salinas. It collapsed into bankruptcy in March after its biggest investor, SoftBank, pulled back funding.
“Bharti will be leading the effort to deliver the promise of universal broadband connectivity through OneWeb, with active support and participation of the British government,” Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal said in a separate statement. The company was one of the founding investors of OneWeb in 2015, prior to recent developments.
Bharti Enterprises, an Indian multinational conglomerate company, has investments across a range of sectors including telecom, technology, hospitality, transportation and energy. It is also the holding company of Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest telecom provider and one of the forerunners in the country’s upcoming 5G auctions.
The new investment in OneWeb is expected to help the company its proposed constellation of satellites. Mittal added that India’s capabilities in the space program through the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) could also be leveraged for OneWeb’s ambitious project.