OneWeb re-born: Mittal plans India trials next year

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on November 20, 2020

Sunil Bharti Mittal

Will be a game changer, especially in rural areas: Bharti Enterprises CEO

Sunil Mittal-led low-earth orbit (LEO) broadband satellite communications company OneWeb is all set to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites and Jeff Bezos’ Project Kuiper. OneWeb has announced its emergence from US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and achievement of all regulatory approvals.

“I have been doing telecommunication services all my life. Satellite is the next frontier. It will be a game-changer especially in rural areas which is difficult to connect through a terrestrial network,” Mittal told BusinessLine. “We can do rural broadband very effectively. So enterprises in rural areas will get a reliable network at their factories and warehouses. We can also use it as a cellular back haul where radio base stations are difficult to set up. Then there are defence, aviation and maritime applications,” he added.

45% stake

In July, Mittal-owned Bharti Global won a global bid to pick up a 45 per cent stake in OneWeb. A consortium of the UK Government, through the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Mittal’s Bharti Global, has invested $1 billion of new equity to offer broadband connectivity services via a constellation of 650 LEO satellites. Low-orbit satellite is the new thing in the space race with Musk’s Starlink satellites already taking the lead. Mittal believes that OneWeb has a better chance of winning this race.

“For a global network we require about $6 billion to finish a project like this. This company has already spent $3.4 billion before going into Chapter 11. We need to invest just another $2 billion to complete this project. In the hands of new shareholders, this will be the cheapest constellation ever,” Mittal said.

Initially, the company will roll out services in the UK and Northern Europe with round-the-clock satellite coverage by next year. In India, Mittal plans to start trials by next year and by May-June 2022 there will be enough satellites to offer 24X7 services.

“We are talking to ISRO and they have been open about private players. To launch in India we will need landing rights, setting up ground stations among other things,” Mittal said, adding that the satellite network will not replace existing cellular infrastructure but will complement it.

Mittal has been appointed the Executive Chairman of the company and Neil Masterson the Chief Executive Officer. Neil was earlier the Co-Chief Operating Officer at Thomson Reuters

A joint venture facility with Airbus in Florida has been re-activated and the dual production lines brought back into service.

Published on November 20, 2020

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