Bharti backed-OneWeb to raise $550 mn from France’s Eutelsat

Kolkata: Bharti Group-backed OneWeb is raising $550 million (Rs 4,103 crore approx) by selling a 24% stake to French satellite operator, Eutelsat Communications, bringing its total funding to $1.9 billion, and helping it inch closer to launching a first-generation satellite fleet, totalling 648 satellites next year.

Eutelsat, a geo-stationary satellite operator, will be a significant equity partner and enjoy similar governance rights to the UK government and Bharti Global, who co-own OneWeb. Bharti Global is the overseas arm of Bharti Enterprises — the holding company of Bharti Airtel, India’s second-largest telco. The investment is expected to be completed in the second half of 2021, subject to regulatory approvals, OneWeb said in a statement Tuesday.

“…as an open multi-national business, we are committed to serving the global needs of governments, businesses and communities across the world,” Bharti Enterprises chairman Sunil Mittal said in the media statement.

Mittal, who is also OneWeb’s executive chairman, added that “together we are stronger, benefitting from the entrepreneurial energy of Bharti, the extensive global outreach of the UK government and the expertise in the satellite industry of Eutelsat.

Bharti Airtel shares closed 1.31% higher at Rs 534.45 on BSE Tuesday. The OneWeb deal was announced late evening, post-market hours.

Back in January, SoftBank Group and Hughes Network Systems LLC had together pumped $260 million into OneWeb.

The latest big-ticket funding comes even as OneWeb prepares to deliver high-speed, low-latency satellite broadband services in rural and remote regions globally (including India), aiming to take on the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon-linked Project Kuiper. OneWeb is slated to roll out satellite internet services in India by June 2022.

OneWeb’s partnership with Eutelsat is slated to enhance “both companies’ commercial potential, leveraging Eutelsat’s established commercial reach to governments and enterprise customers in addition to its strong institutional relationships, recognised technical expertise and global fleet,” the companies said in the oint statement.

OneWeb’s CEO Neil Masterson said the company “now has 80% of the necessary financing” for the Gen 1 fleet, of which nearly 30% is already in space. He added that Eutelsat’s global distribution network advances the market entry opportunities for OneWeb, which looks forward to working together to capitalise on the growth opportunity and accelerate the pace of execution.

Eutelsat’s CEO Rodolphe Belmer, in turn, said the French satellite operator is “excited to become a shareholder and partner in OneWeb” in the run up to its commercial launch later in the year, adding that it is “confident in OneWeb’s right-to-win, thanks to its earliness to market, priority spectrum rights and evolving, scalable technology”.

Last November, Bharti Global MD Shravin Mittal had told ET that OneWeb is open to entering India either directly or through a commercial partnership, involving either the JV route or a bandwidth capacity leasing pact, even as it gears up to launch fast broadband services in the country by June 2022.

Earlier this month, Nettle Infrastructure Investments, a wholly-owned arm of Bharti Airtel, acquired 100% stake in OneWeb India Communications Pvt Ltd, in an all-cash deal for an undisclosed sum. Airtel, in an exchange filing this month, had said that UK-based Network Access Associates Ltd, a OneWeb group company, was in the process of seeking foreign direct investment (FDI) approval for investment in OneWeb India Communications Private Ltd.

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