FILE PHOTO: Sunil Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises. (Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
GLOBAL satellite communications company OneWeb targets to be a ‘truly global force for good’ by the end of 2022 as the UK government has completed its acquisition.
The UK government and the Indian conglomerate Bharti Global are the new owners of OneWeb which will begin commercial connectivity services to the UK and the Arctic region in late 2021.
Neil T Masterson, former Thomson Reuters chief operating officer, has been appointed as the chief executive officer of the company. Its previous CEO Adrián Steckel will continue as an adviser to the board.
“This strategic investment demonstrates government’s commitment to the UK’s space sector in the long-term and our ambition to put Britain at the cutting edge of the latest advances in space technology. Access to our own global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect people worldwide, providing fast UK-backed broadband from the Shetlands to the Sahara and from Pole to Pole,” said UK business secretary Alok Sharma.
“This deal gives us the chance to build on our strong advanced manufacturing and services base in the UK, creating jobs and technical expertise. The government is committed to work with OneWeb’s shareholder partners to use this investment as a platform to promote UK jobs and supply chains and protect UK critical assets and intellectual property.”
OneWeb will provide a new broadband connectivity for businesses, communities, and governments around the world.
It plans is to take 648 spacecraft aloft to deliver internet connectivity to nearly all land and seas surfaces around the globe.
The company has already launched 74 satellites and infrastructure development is in progress in strategic locations around the world.
The next 36 satellites were despatched from a Florida factory to Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome for launch on a Soyuz rocket, currently scheduled for 17 December.
Sunil Bharti, founder and chairman of Bharti Global said: “Together with our partners at HMG, we are looking forward to a new Low Earth Orbit opportunity. Innovation, resilience and growth in the high-tech sector are all served by this powerful global opportunity.”
OneWeb sought Chapter 11 protection in the US in March after its then biggest shareholder, Japanese tech funder Softbank, stepped back from further investment in the project.
The bidding process to pick up the assets, including the radio frequencies used by the constellation, was won by a consortium led by the London government and Bharti, who are both injecting $500m into the venture, reported the BBC.
The new CEO Masterson will return to London from New York to take up the role.
“I am looking forward to helping the OneWeb team deliver and commercialise their vision to provide internet access across the globe,” he said.
The UK government’s involvement in the company’s rescue has attracted criticism as many questioning why ministers would invest so much money in what remains a risky venture.
Alok Sharma even had to issue a ‘ministerial direction’ to push the investment forward after civil servants stated their objection.
The services of OneWeb include precise positioning, navigation and timing, a capability the UK government is keen to establish in some form as its partnership in the EU’s Galileo sat-nav project has ended following Brexit.
OneWeb was founded in 2012, and raised $3.4 billion from Softbank Group, Airbus SE and other big names, but lead investors pulled their money at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.