Top Five Companies To Watch: O3b Networks

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Headquarters: St. John, Jersey, Channel Islands, Britain

Employees: 30

Revenue: Not applicable

 

When O3b came on the scene in 2008, it was easy to dismiss  the company’s plan to deploy a constellation of medium Earth orbit satellites to provide high-speed Internet links to the world’s equatorial regions. After the experience with other non-geostationary orbit communications ventures — the three that succeeded in deploying constellations in the 1990s all made detours through bankruptcy reorganization — it seemed questionable at best to try anything remotely similar. Moreover, O3b, which stands for “other 3 billion,” was targeting the populations of the world with the least ability to pay for these services.

But if it was difficult to take O3b seriously then, it is every bit as difficult not to today. Late last summer, amid a global economic downturn that made investment capital difficult to come by, O3b secured a $465 million loan guarantee from France’s Coface export credit agency to help finance construction of its initial constellation by Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy. The Coface backing was the centerpiece of a $525 million debt package assembled by a banking consortium to go with the $86 million in equity financing that had been raised by that time.

O3b got another big credibility boost the following November, when global satellite fleet operator SES agreed to make a $75 million cash investment in the startup company. Yet another shoe dropped in February when SES Chief Financial Officer Mark Rigolle left that very profitable company to take over as chief executive of O3b.

Construction of the O3b’s initial eight satellites is well under way, with launches slated to begin in 2012 aboard two Russian-built Soyuz rockets operating from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana. O3b also has contracted with satellite broadband terminal and services provider ViaSat to install key elements of its ground infrastructure.

But O3b is not there yet. The company needs to raise another $235 million in equity financing to complete its constellation, which when fully deployed will consist of 20 satellites. Rigolle hopes to have that package assembled by June.

Then there are the nontrivial matters of obtaining landing rights for the service in its target markets as well as actually selling it. The company says it has lined up nearly $600 million worth of business with African telecommunications providers, as well as commitments from other regions, and hopes to be adding substantially to its customer list in the next year or so.