SoftBank interested in more satellite, OneWeb-related investments

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — SoftBank is actively considering future investments in the satellite industry, including investments related to low-Earth orbit broadband startup OneWeb, the head of SoftBank’s merger and acquisition and corporate finance division said today.

Alex Clavel, managing director at SoftBank, said the Japanese tech giant, which in December 2016 invested $1 billion in OneWeb, is “very actively looking at new opportunities for OneWeb,” as well as “new opportunities throughout the smallsat space, and advances in manufacturing and communications.”

OneWeb is building a first-generation constellation of 900 high-throughput, Ku-band satellites for global internet connectivity, with the first 10 satellites launching in May on an Arianespace Soyuz rocket. Service is scheduled to begin in 2019.

Speaking at the SmallSat Symposium here, Clavel said small satellites, manufacturing and communications  “all to us seem like they are at an inflection point.” But SoftBank’s interest is less about the industry specifically than it is about connectivity.

“OneWeb for us is more about delivering broadband than it is about being a satellite company,” he said. “We like the satellite space, for us though, we aren’t a pure deep satellite investor.”

Clavel didn’t say if any subsequent space investments are on the horizon for SoftBank, but said OneWeb’s network of corporate partners and investors was “absolutely key” in underlining the stability of investing in the startup’s multibillion dollar vision.

OneWeb partners “are helping around every facet of the business where we are trying to innovate,” he said, listing as examples Qualcomm on chipsets, Hughes on user terminals and Virgin Group on space launch. Those companies, along with Airbus, Intelsat, Coca-Cola, Bharti Enterprises and Totalplay Telecommunications, all participated in OneWeb’s $500 million capital raise in 2015.

OneWeb founder Greg Wyler said in 2016 that SoftBank’s investment was the equivalent of two financing rounds, and eliminated the need for a third capital raise. Previous OneWeb investors also participated in that second round, raising its value to $1.2 billion, and OneWeb’s total capital raise to $1.7 billion.