Robert HARNEIS -TDO-(FRANCE)- The collapsed SoftBank-backed satellite startup is set to exit bankruptcy and get back into the internet space race with a $1 billion injection from the owner of India’s Bharti Airtel, the world’s third-largest telecom operator, and the UK government. The London-based company’s original mission is to provide fast, affordable internet everywhere. This is important for India. The UK’s interest is in replacing its lost membership of the EU Galileo navigational network.
OneWeb already has about 74 satellites circling the planet and is aiming to build a network of about 650. Future customers will be able to surf the web from the mountains, deserts and oceans using a lightweight mobile antenna. According to Reuters, the numerous profitable applications for the technology are underscored by OneWeb’s earlier backers, which include Airbus Group, Coca-Cola and Qualcomm. So are the risks: the company has already burned through more than $3 billion, most of the money it raised.
The UK government and Bharti will each invest $500 million for a 45% each, with the balance of the company held by creditors.
It is notable that Bharti, which bought a small stake in 2015, has not been put off by the bankruptcy. Its presence guarantees OneWeb will have at least one big future customer. The company has access to over 425 million telecom customers across India and Africa, and sees potential to bridge the urban-rural digital divide and hedge the existing business. In India, for example, there are less than 50 million fixed-line broadband users, mobile network coverage is patchy, and spectrum costs are unpredictable.
The current UK government has strong informal links with India and the Indian business community. The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rushi Sunak is a Hindu and is the son in law of Indian billionaire and co-founder of Infosys, N. R. Narayana Murthy.