The additional investment will increase Eutelsat’s stake in OneWeb to 22.9%, making it the second-largest shareholder after India’s Bharti Airtel
Back in April, Eutelsat announced that it would be investing $550 million in UK-based satellite operator OneWeb, who had just launched their latest batch of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
At the time, this investment gave Eutelsat a 24% stake in the company, but this percentage has diminished to 17.6% recently as a result of additional investments from other organisations including SoftBank and Hanwha.
Currently, OneWeb has launched 322 LEO satellites into orbit, enough to begin commercial (beta) operations in the northern hemisphere by the end of the year. The satellite operator hopes to launch 648 LEO satellites in total, aiming for the constellation to provide global coverage by the end of 2022.
Now, Eutelsat has announced it will invest a further $165 million into OneWeb, increasing its stake to 22.9%.
“We are hugely excited to grasp this opportunity to deepen our commitment to OneWeb,” said Eutelsat chief executive Rodolphe Belmer. “The significant progress it has made in the run-up to its now imminent entry into service, together with the vote of confidence demonstrated by the commitment of both its investors and future customers, makes us even more convinced of OneWeb’s right-to-win in the LEO constellation segment.”
Since being rescued from bankruptcy by the UK government and Bharti Airtel in November 2020, the company has gone from strength to strength, garnering $2.4 billion in investment and signing deals with both BT and AT&T.
The company already has future approval for 2,000 satellites, with 1,280 of these being next-generation medium Earth orbit (MEO) models.
But while Eutelsat’s interest in the burgeoning LEO satellite market is plain to see, it does not come without negative impacts elsewhere. In May, the European Union (EU) warned that Eutelsat’s investment in OneWeb could jeopardise the company’s role in creating the EU’s own LEO constellation.
“We took good note of their decision to participate in a project that is in direct competition with the European initiative. I do not see how, structurally, an entity can have stakes in two competing projects,” said EU Commissioner Thierry Breton at the launch of the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA).
Of course, OneWeb is not the only LEO satellite constellation which is gaining in scale in the last few months. SpaceX’s Starlink constellation already has 1,600 devices in orbit, though its latest launches have been delayed due to adding laser terminals to its satellites to help them communicate with each other and avoid collisions.
Elon Musk recently revealed that Starlink had shipped over a million terminals to customers in 14 countries.
How is the booming satellite broadband market set to reshape the wider telecoms industry? Find out from the experts at this year’s Total Telecom Congress
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