Like a satellite crashing down to earth, the fall of UK-based satellite company OneWeb was spectacular. At the turn of the year, it was still seen as a promising unicorn, having already raised $3.4 billion from marquee investors including Japanese VC SoftBank and semiconductor major Qualcomm. In late March, scarcely a week removed from the successful launch of 34 satellites, OneWeb filed for bankruptcy after a failed funding round from SoftBank.

The company has been in deep waters for months now, looking for suitors to throw it a rope and keep it from going under for good. As recently as last month, e-commerce leader Amazon was seen as a frontrunner for this. “Till about the last week of June, OneWeb’s senior executives were excited about a possible takeover by [Jeff] Bezos,” a former senior OneWeb executive told The Ken. That would be the last they heard about Amazon’s involvement.

Instead, July brought the news that OneWeb had found a lifeboat in Bharti Global, an arm of Sunil Bharti Mittal-founded Bharti Enterprises. As part of a consortium with the UK government, Bharti will pump $500 million into the ailing satellite startup.

The imperative for the UK government is simple enough—it wants wants The Telegraph OneWeb's satellites can beam broadband internet and 5G signals around the world Read more to accelerate and foster the domestic development of space technology. Since Brexit, it is also no longer party to the European Union’s satellite navigation system, Galileo. OneWeb could potentially help it to build an alternative.

The takeover of OneWeb also has strategic importance for another Bharti Enterprise-owned company—India’s second biggest telco, Bharti Airtel.

The original idea behind OneWeb, founded by Greg Wyler, was to beam affordable, high-speed internet to remote and rural parts of the world. It would do this through a revolving constellation of nearly 700 low-earth orbit (LEO) micro satellites. 

Unlike their geostationary, or GEO, counterparts, which traditionally sit at altitudes of around 36,000 kilometres, OneWeb’s LEO satellites orbit at an altitude of 1,200 kilometres. The shorter distance means they enjoy less latency—around 50 milliseconds, six to eight times lower than GEO satellites—and offer bandwidth of upto 1 Gbps.   

With OneWeb aiming to complete its constellation and provide “full global commercial coverage by late 2021 or early 2022”, it would boost Bharti Airtel’s enterprise business enterprise business The Ken Even as incumbents like Bharti Airtel and Tata Communications defend their turf, Jio could have a shortcut to gain large enterprise clients Read more globally.

AUTHOR

Pratap Vikram Singh

Pratap is based out of Delhi and covers policy and myriad intersections with the other sectors, most notably technology. He has worked with Governance Now for seven years, reporting on technology, telecom policy, and the social sector.

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