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OneWeb sale a real-life Game of Thrones

May 19, 2020

The bankruptcy and sell-off of mega-constellation OneWeb’s assets has become extremely interesting.

Analysts at Quilty Analytics were on the case and suggesting that the auction now has 30 interested parties having signed NDAs, and that with Chinese, British, French and US interests involved it is turning into a real-life Game of Thrones. Indeed, Quilty says that it suspects that other government-backed entities could also be involved.

Quilty says: “Although the list of interested parties is non-public, our previous OneWeb report speculated on which companies might have an interest in evaluating the assets. As with most such processes, we believe the evaluation process included tire-kickers, bottom-feeders – and a handful of companies with bona fide interest in the assets.”

The analysts understand that more than a half-dozen entities have already submitted non-binding proposals and the rumours include:

  • Amazon for its Project Kuiper scheme. “OneWeb’s spectrum filings are far from ideal vis-à-vis its own constellation plans,” adds Quilty.
  • Cerberus Capital Management. “Potentially bidding in support of another strategic party.”
  • Eutelsat (and France), which stated that “it will be very difficult to derive a decent amount of returns out of the first phase of those investments… Below 12 per cent [as a rate of return threshold], we don’t invest… And of course we are looking into the OneWeb situation, but be sure that we look at this situation with a very disciplined, very value creation focused eye. And no more than that.”
  • UK. “Protect spectrum position and significantly bolster its space industrial base, particularly important in light of Brexit.”
  • “Three Chinese companies assumed to be acting with the explicit or implicit backing of the Chinese government.”
  • The US will not (cannot) acquire OneWeb, and we think it is extremely unlikely to make a direct investment in the business. But we believe that the US would support a “friendly” buyer (e.g., perhaps via a DoD procurement contract) in order to bolster the DoD’s Arctic communications capabilities and, importantly, to ensure that OneWeb does not fall into its adversaries’ hands.”

Quilty admits that it wholly underestimated the potential strategic value of OneWeb to various State-backed actors. “If the above list of suitors is accurate, then our conclusion appears to be largely correct. The narrow swim-lane afforded by OneWeb’s spectrum licenses proved too restrictive for nearly all commercial parties.”

“Ownership of the OneWeb system (either as-designed or as-modified) could confer a significant economic, strategic, and geopolitical advantage to its owner/operator. Under normal circumstances, most Western governments are wary of stepping in front of routine commercial transactions. That is, unless an adversarial State gets involved,” states the Quilty report.

Quilty reminds readers that on June 26th final, binding, bids must be placed. If there are multiple bids for the same asset/s then an auction will be held July 2nd.

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