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Satellite broadband: Bharti’s OneWeb takes off; aims for full commercial services by mid-2022

The services would commence from UK and the Arctic region and subsequently expand.

With Bharti Enterprises-led low earth orbit (LEO) broadband satellite communications company OneWeb emerging from US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and achieving all relevant regulatory approvals, chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said that beginning mid-December till October 2021, the company will launch a total 360 satellites to construct a global satellite constellation that will provide enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world. This would mark the trial test runs.

Speaking to FE, Mittal said that from May-June 2022 commercial broadband services would be launched in several parts of the globe in remote and hilly regions where currently such services are not available. The services would commence from UK and the Arctic region and subsequently expand.

Broadband communications through satellites is provided by dropping a box in remote and hilly regions which creates Wi-Fi spots through which broadband services are provided.

“These are exciting times and the world now has a LEO alternative to work with. We look forward to partnering with those equally determined to enter this new space age. There is unmet demand around the globe for broadband connectivity and we intend to continue OneWeb’s social mission. We will use our joint venture facility to drive down cost of service, opening new use cases for low latency broadband provision,” Mittal said.

He said that approximately $1 billion remains to be raised and whether it would be through equity or debt remains to be decided. Mittal said that the new shareholders are confident that returns of leverage is easily achieved and places the company on historic lows and way below industry norms.

A consortium of Bharti Global, which is part of Bharti Enterprises, and the British Government had won an auction for OneWeb in July. The consortium has invested $1 billion into the company and will offer broadband connectivity services, via a constellation of 650 LEO satellites.

OneWeb will continue to be headquartered in the UK. The company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March after its largest investor SoftBank had pulled out.

With the completion of the restructuring process, OneWeb also announced a new management with Mittal as the executive chairman and Neil Masterson as the chief executive officer. Two non-executive board members representing the UK Government which is currently going through its public recruitment process will be announced.

“Together with our UK Government as partners, we recognised that OneWeb has valuable global spectrum with priority rights, and we benefit from $3.3 billion invested to-date and from the satellites already in orbit, securing our usage rights,” Mittal added.

UK secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Alok Sharma said, “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.”

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