A UK government consortium led by India's Bharti Enterprises has bagged a cutting satellite technology company with an eye on a joint telecom revolution and universal connectivity.
The UK government along with India's Bharti Enterprises recently announced their successful bid to acquire OneWeb, a London-based firm which develops cutting-edge satellite technology in the UK and US. UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed that Britain will invest $500 million and take a "significant" equity share in London-based OneWeb, which had declared bankruptcy earlier this year. Another $500-million will come from Bharti Global Ltd, an entity of the Sunil Bharti Mittal led Indian telecom major which controls the third-largest mobile operator in the world in Bharti Airtel, with over 425 million customers. Bharti will provide the commercial and operational leadership and bring OneWeb a revenue base to contribute towards its future success, the UK government said.
Sharma said: “This deal underlines the scale of Britain's ambitions on the global stage.
“Our access to a global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect millions of people worldwide to broadband, many for the first time, and the deal presents the opportunity to further develop our strong advanced manufacturing base right here in the UK.”
Bharti, through Bharti Airtel, has its own extensive mobile broadband networks and enterprise business, which will act as the testing ground for all OneWeb products, services, and applications. Bharti Airtel also operates India's leading satellite broadcasting service, through Airtel Digital TV, to over 16 million households, the UK government notes.
The deal between the UK and Bharti will enable construction of a global satellite constellation that will provide enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world, said the UK′s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
OneWeb was formed in 2012 and has been developing satellite technology from its bases both in the UK and in the US. The UK-India new deal, which is subject to US court approval and regulatory clearances and is expected to close before the end of the year, has been pegged as a signal of the Boris Johnson led government's ambition for the UK to be a pioneer in the research, development, manufacturing, and exploitation of novel satellite technologies through the ownership of a fleet of Low Earth orbit satellites. The deal also offers the UK strategic opportunities across a wide range of other applications, working with international allies.
The UK government said it will have a final say over any future sale of the company, and over future access to OneWeb technology by other countries on national security grounds.
With a sovereign global satellite system, the UK said it will further develop its advanced manufacturing base, making the most of its highly skilled workforce as the hardware is further developed and equipment and services are deployed to make the most of this unique capability.
OneWeb will also contribute to the UK's plan to join the first rank of space nations, along with a commitment to making Britain a world leader in science, research and development, according to BEIS.
It follows the formation of the UK's first-ever National Space Council, chaired by UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, to consider how space policy can enhance the country's prosperity and place in the world, as well as our wider national security interests.
According to official statistics, the UK space sector is growing by over 60 per cent since 2010. The sector, which supports £300 billion of UK economic activity through the use of satellite services, is expected to grow further as new commercial opportunities are expected to be unlocked by this agreement.
Bharti was one of the founding members of OneWeb and had a strategic stake in the company. The winning bid has been pegged by the Indian company as an important step in its promise of universal broadband connectivity, with substantial commercial use cases across the telecoms, enterprise, aviation and maritime sectors.
Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman Bharti Enterprises said: “In addition to commercial and strategic benefits, OneWeb's platform will help to reduce the 'digital divide' by providing high speed, low latency broadband access to the poor and hard-to-reach rural areas. A low-earth orbit constellation is the only viable mechanism through which the 'last billion' can be connected.
“As one of the largest telecoms operators in India and Africa, I know what a powerful social and economic enabler this can be. We will work with partners around the world to deliver this technology to those who need it the most.”
On a personal note, Mittal says he is particularly excited about the opportunity for India and the UK to “deepen” their cooperation on space.
“India's leading edge capabilities in the space program through the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) can be leveraged to accelerate OneWeb's ambitions,” he notes.