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Bidders emerge for OneWeb assets

May 7, 2020

By Chris Forrester

Whilst all the details aren’t yet known, there are serious names who have entered bids for some or all of OneWeb’s assets. By the May 4th deadline, at least six proposals had been received by either Millbank LLP or Guggenheim Securities, who are acting on behalf of the operation.

While not yet being specific about which assets the bids are interested in, the bidders include:

  • Eutelsat (with France/EU)
  • SpaceX
  • Amazon
  • Cerberus
  • Two from China

Two bidders are said to be interested in the complete business, although some bidders alternatively might be looking for low-cost access to key assets. OneWeb seemingly now expects to have bids for its spectrum by June 12th, with a Court approved auction a week later.

The actual auction (if the business/segments is not already sold) is scheduled to start on July 2nd at the offices of Milbank LLP, lawyers for the action, and finalised a week later on July 10th.

Eutelsat’s interest – including France and the EU – is fascinating given that Eutelsat has only extremely limited plans for its own Low Earth orbiting plans. Eutelsat is currently planning a fleet of small satellites for Internet of Things access.  Acquiring the OneWeb fleet might be seen as a ‘bargain basement’ option, although winning an auction would also force Eutelsat to fund the building of the rest of OneWeb’s fleet. It could be that Eutelsat with the French/EU involved is mainly interested in OneWeb’s spectrum.

SpaceX is also an interesting bidder given that it already has 400+ satellites already in orbit. Perhaps it is interested in the Airbus joint-venture which OneWeb has to build satellites in Florida.

Amazon’s interest could be on many levels, either for the whole business (its pockets are certainly deep enough to outbid any of the rival bidders) or for segments of the business. Amazon’s Project Kuiper will need thousands of new satellites and OneWeb’s 50 per cent stake in a Florida satellite building factory could be of interest.

Much the same argument applies to SpaceX, where interest could be in OneWeb’s spectrum as well as any other key elements of the portfolio of assets on offer.

Cerebus Capital is a New York-based private equity business and which specialises in distressed assets. The company has more than $40 billion of assets under management.

As for the two Chinese expressions of interest, it is anyone’s guess as to their intentions. However, a Chinese-backed complete broadband-by-satellite system is not foolish. Perhaps Jack Ma of Alibaba wants a system to rival that of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

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