Canada, India interested in OneWeb
July 1, 2020
By Chris Forrester
Ottawa-based Telesat has reportedly entered a bid for OneWeb’s satellite assets. But it isn’t alone.
There will be an auction process on July 2nd in New York. The UK is widely reported to have committed to a $500 million (£405m) participation for a 20 per cent stake in OneWeb. The UK bid is said to be backed by India’s Bharti Telecom and its Bharti Airtel division owned by billionaire Sunil Mittal. In fact it is also reported that Telesat had hoped to partner with UK interests on a bid.
Bharti was already a backer and investor in OneWeb (now in bankruptcy protection) alongside other key players such as chip-maker Qualcomm and Europe’s Airbus. OneWeb’s major backer was Japanese media conglomerate SoftBank.
Bharti is a huge Indian company and the nation’s second-biggest wireless operator. Its market value is about $41 billion, and as part of its investment in OneWeb it had the distribution rights to its broadband services and as well as India covering Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Africa.
Airbus has a very special interest in the bankruptcy, and its outcome. First up, it is a 50/50 shareholder with OneWeb in the Florida factory turning out OneWeb’s satellites.
OneWeb has 68 working satellites in orbit out of a total initial plan of at least 648 with each operating at 1200 kms altitude. The OneWeb/Airbus joint venture, prior to the bankruptcy, was making two satellites a day from its facility in Florida.
However, there are also rumours that Telesat + Airbus and possibly including Thales Alenia Space are also interested in OneWeb’s assets. With Europe’s two important satellite-building companies interested, and a possibility that the European Commission might back a French bid – with Telesat – and which includes satellite operator Eutelsat. Eutelsat is alone amongst the ‘big four’ satellite operators in NOT having a LEO component.
Canada’s Telesat is also a very keen fan of Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites. Telesat is the fourth-largest geostationary satellite operator and supplies DTH TV signals of some 200 channels for the likes of Bell TV and Shaw Direct. It operates the Anik, Nimiq and Telstar fleets of satellites.
It has recently tested its own debut LEO satellites in an exercise with Telefonica. The tests, described by the pair as “rigorous” were designed to explore the performance and feasibility of leveraging LEO satellites for high-end services. Testing demonstrated that Telesat LEO could be a viable option for wireless backhaul and presents a substantial improvement in performance over geostationary orbit (GEO) links.
Those tests included the delivery of HD video streaming and video conferencing as well as VPN connections. Telesat was planning to launch just 117 LEO satellites into orbit. That plan was expanded to 298 craft and in May, Telesat announced that it would like FCC permission to dramatically extend that number to an overall 1671 satellites.
Telesat’s bid – if accepted – could be the ‘fast-track’ to launching its own LEO fleet. For example, it could trim the OneWeb planned fleet to suit the Canadian company’s own purposes.
The auction will reveal what of OneWeb’s assets go where. There’s the orbiting fleet. There are valuable spectrum assets to be spun off. There’s the Airbus joint-venture and a hundred and one other parcels of value.