Friday, 18 June 2021

Eutelsat takes stake in OneWeb following launch of 36 satellites

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Wednesday 28 April 21

Sunday saw OneWeb launch 36 more low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites into orbit and now Eutelsat is set to invest $550 for a 24% stake in the UK satellite operator

Last weekend, OneWeb launched 36 new LEO satellites into orbit, increasing the size of its constellation to 182.  This launch follows a previous launch around a month ago that also sent 36 satellites into orbit. OneWeb will require two more 36-satellite launches before the company can reach its interim goal of total UK coverage by the end of the year, with the constellation also able to cover Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland…

Last weekend, OneWeb launched 36 new LEO satellites into orbit, increasing the size of its constellation to 182. 

This launch follows a previous launch around a month ago that also sent 36 satellites into orbit. OneWeb will require two more 36-satellite launches before the company can reach its interim goal of total UK coverage by the end of the year, with the constellation also able to cover Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic Seas and Canada.

In total, OneWeb is aiming to expand its constellation to 650 satellites from 2022, with the aim of providing global coverage. 

But of course, they are not the only satellite broadband provider currently in orbit. Space X’s Starlink constellation is already much bigger, with around 1,400 satellites currently in orbit and plans to expand to up to 42,000 spacecraft based on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) frequency spectrum filings. 

Meanwhile, plans for Amazon’s own Project Kuiper constellation is moving closer to reality, earlier this month ordering nine Atlas 5 rockets from United Launch Alliance. While it is unclear when the first launch of Amazon’s satellites will take place, it will need to have launched all of its 3,236 LEO satellites by 2026 under its FCC licence.

Clearly, the satellite broadband space is heating up and could represent a major opportunity for investors. At least, this seems to be the interpretation by France’s Eutelsat, which yesterday announced that it was investing $550 million for a 25% stake in OneWeb. The investment will also give Eutelsat three seats on the board, matching those held by the UK government and Bharti Airtel, the two parties who saved OneWeb from bankruptcy just months ago.

“We are excited to become a shareholder and partner in OneWeb in the run up to its commercial launch later in the year and to participate in the substantial opportunity represented by the LEO segment within our industry,” said Rodolphe Belmer, Eutelsat’s CEO.

While primarily dependent on satellite broadcast revenue, Eutelsat’s interest in the satellite broadband sphere has been increasing recently, with the company signing deals with both Orange and TIM to resell its capacity.

For OneWeb, the new funding could not come at a better time, helping to soak up the expense of launching satellites at such a pace.

“We now have 80% of the necessary financing for the Gen 1 fleet, of which nearly 30% is already in space,” explained Neil Masterson, OneWeb’s CEo. “Eutelsat’s global distribution network advances the market entry opportunities for OneWeb and we look forward to working together to capitalise on the growth opportunity and accelerate the pace of execution.”

From bankruptcy to taking on the likes of Starlink and Project Kuiper, OneWeb surely has its work cut out for it in the coming months. It will be interesting to see where the company finds the final 20% of funding it requires to get the its first fleet fully operational.

 

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Also in the news:
Could Starlink be a victim of its own success?
Driving the digital skills agenda in Staffordshire
UK 5G auction completes with a Vodafone–O2 spectrum swap

 

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