OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communications company jointly owned by the UK Government and Bharti Global, announced last Friday (15 January) that it has received additional funding from Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp and Hughes Network Systems, bringing OneWeb’s total funding to USD1.4 billion. In a press release, OneWeb stated: ‘the capital raised to date positions the Company to be fully funded for its first-generation satellite fleet, totalling 648 satellites, by the end of 2022’.
OneWeb was founded in 2014 and has set out its stall to deliver broadband connectivity worldwide to bridge the global digital divide by offering universal access – including IoT – and a pathway to 5G. Its latest release noted: ‘OneWeb’s LEO satellite system includes a network of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals for different customer markets capable of delivering affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency communications services. In December 2020, OneWeb launched 36 new satellites, built at its Airbus Joint Venture assembly plant in Florida, USA, bringing the Company’s total fleet to 110 satellites, all fully-functioning and benefitting from International Telecommunication Union spectrum priority.’ Masayoshi Son, CEO of SoftBank, said: ‘We are excited to support OneWeb as it increases capacity and accelerates towards commercialisation. We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Bharti, the UK Government and Hughes to help OneWeb deliver on its mission to transform internet access around the world.’
The Financial Times reports that SoftBank invested USD350 million in OneWeb to give it a roughly 30% stake, having held an existing 9% tranche after converting USD90 million of debt into equity as part of OneWeb’s rescue from bankruptcy in November 2020, which saw the UK government and Bharti Global inject USD1 billion into the satellite venture. SoftBank had opted out of a previous funding round, prompting OneWeb to file for Chapter 11 protection in March that year. SoftBank’s latest investment dilutes the respective stakes of Bharti Global and the UK government from 42.2% to approximately 30% apiece, although the UK retains a ‘golden share’ allowing it to control access to the satellite system. US backer Hughes, meanwhile, stumped up an additional USD50 million on top of its initial USD50 million equity investment in OneWeb.