BRITAIN has joined forces with India’s Bharti Global to buy the collapsed satellite operator OneWeb, with the two sides pledging $1 billion between them to develop a constellation that could boost broadband and other services.
Under the deal announced on Friday (3), Britain will invest $500 million and take a significant equity share in OneWeb while Bharti will invest the same amount and provide commercial and operational leadership.
The deal means the two sides will be pitted against Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the race to build low earth orbit satellites to provide high-bandwidth and low-latency communications services.
“Our access to a global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect millions of people worldwide to broadband, many for the first time,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma said. “And the deal presents the opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base right here in the UK.”
British governments have generally taken a hands-off approach to holding equity stakes but the deal could boost the manufacturing sector, which has endured several years of uncertainty over future trading rules due to Brexit, and has now lost thousands of jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Bharti Global Ltd, overseas arm of Bharti Enterprises, operates out of London. The business has substantial commercial use cases across the telecoms, enterprise, aviation and maritime sectors.
“I am delighted that Bharti will be leading the effort to deliver the promise of universal broadband connectivity through OneWeb, with the active support and participation of the British government,” said Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises.
“With strong operational execution, we will be able to generate an attractive return for investors, while ensuring that Britain plays a leading role in space and next generation communications.”
OneWeb was formed with a mission to offer high speed and low-latency wireless broadband access to billions of people across the globe, particularly in rural areas through a constellation of satellites in low earth orbit, the company said.
“Bharti was one of the founding members of OneWeb and had a strategic stake in the company,” a company statement added.
OneWeb, founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Greg Wyler, had planned to launch 650 satellites into low earth orbit to provide universal internet but was locked in a constant struggle to raise funds.
The company filed for bankruptcy at the end of March after its biggest investor SoftBank Group Corp pulled funding, with an auction held on Thursday.
The current deal is subject to a US court approval and regulatory clearances, and is expected to close before the end of the year, the UK government said in a statement.