In search of an alternative for the Galileo sat-nav system, as Brexit left the country scavenging on remains of its once glorious satellite technology, UK government has joined hands with Indian business conglomerate Bharti Global, in acquiring now bankrupt OneWeb, the failing satellite company from Softbank.
OneWeb, once among one of the crown jewels for Softbank, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US in March. The company was in no way done. It had potential. It had goals. It had only launched about 74 satellites out of its planned constellation, which was supposed to have 650 satellites in total. Had the goal been achieved, OneWeb would have become capable of providing low latency, high speed internet service using low Earth orbiting satellites, much like the Starlink constellation from SpaceX. But as it turned out, things didn’t work out as planned. That and some capital restrictions from an under-damage-control Softbank led to OneWeb’s current fate.
On the other hand, Brexit left UK in search of a worthy answer to its new satellite problems, and as they say, this match was made in heaven.
Now, both the UK Government and Bharti Global will pour in $500 million each. As a result, while the UK government would get 20% stake in the company, India’s Bharti Global will get the rights to supply the business management and commercial operations.
OneWeb will get back to completing its unfulfilled dream of providing global internet services, and build its constellation. Bharti Global wants in, for obvious reasons, as Bharti Airtel might finally get access to the tools it needs to fight Reliance Jio on home turf and other global peers in overseas market. UK, on the other hand, wants to use the constellation for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services, a capability that it lost earlier in the year.
Moreover, a BBC report states that OneWeb plans to get back to its earlier glory and expand until it reaches its ‘pre bankruptcy’ levels. It also plans to undo the layoffs, once the deal goes through.
That being said, even if the deal is secured, the future ahead won’t be easy. SpaceX’s Starlink constellation has made much more progress, and is close to starting preliminary operations by the end of this year. Moreover, it has the big pockets of SpaceX and the branding of Elon Musk on its side, making it the horse to bet on. And speaking of deep pockets, Jeff Bezos owned Blue Origins can be another problem for the startup, as it’s never a good idea to be a competitor to the bald unspoken ruler of the world.