OneWeb Satellites facility
Airbus OneWeb Satellites is located just outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: OneWeb Satellites

TAMPA, Fla. — Indian telecom company Bharti Global is set to own the largest share of low-Earth-orbit broadband venture OneWeb, after investing an extra $500 million to complete the constellation’s funding.

Bharti and the British government jointly bought OneWeb out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for $1 billion in 2020, rescuing the startup in the middle of a pandemic that had disrupted its funding plans.

Japanese internet giant SoftBank, which was the venture’s largest shareholder before OneWeb fell into bankruptcy, invested $350 million in January and U.S.-based antenna maker Hughes Network Systems injected $50 million.

In April, French satellite operator Eutelsat paid $550 million for what would have given it a 24% stake in OneWeb.

However, Bharti had a call option to increase its holding, which it said June 29 it had activated. 

That gives the Indian group 38.6% of the company. The U.K. government, Eutelsat and Softbank will each own 19.3% — if Eutelsat and Bharti’s latest investments get regulatory clearances later this year.

OneWeb said another call option exists that might change its final shareholder structure in the future.

Bharti’s investment means OneWeb has secured the $2.4 billion it needs for deploying 648 satellites by 2022, providing connectivity to enterprise, government, maritime and aviation customers.

Arianespace is due to launch another batch of 36 satellites for OneWeb July 1, from Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia, expanding its network to 254 in orbit as it prepares to start partial services this year.

That launch will also give OneWeb coverage north of 50 degrees latitude, spanning the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada.

SpaceX’s Starlink LEO broadband constellation is estimated to have more than 1,600 in orbit following an aggressive launch campaign. 

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president, recently said it will be able to provide global coverage by around September — dependent on various regulatory approvals.

However, OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson said his startup has the advantage of having a “significantly lower entry cost of any LEO” broadband constellation.

“We benefit from $3.4bn of pre-Chapter 11 investment by the original shareholders, making new OneWeb a three-times lower cost Constellation,” Masterson said in a statement.

“With the forthcoming launch we will have completed 40% of our Network. We are intently focused on execution and just ten more launches will enable us to deliver global coverage. Investors have backed the extraordinary efforts of the OneWeb team to deliver more of the global connectivity the World needs.”

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...