OneWeb secures new funding from SoftBank to help it take on Elon Musk’s Starlink

A Soyuz-2.1b rocket booster blasts off from a launch pad of Vostochny Cosmodrome carrying 36 OneWeb satellites to orbit in December 2020.

Yuri Smityuk | TASS | Getty Images

LONDON — Less than a year after filing for bankruptcy, U.K. satellite communications firm OneWeb announced it has $1.4 billion in total funding thanks to a new investment from SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems.

Reports suggest the new funding from SoftBank and Hughes is worth around $400 million. OneWeb and SoftBank did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Founded in 2012, OneWeb wants to create a network of hundreds of satellites and use them to deliver broadband to everyone in the world, no matter where they are. The company claims its satellite system will be able to deliver affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency broadband. 

The London-headquartered company is competing with Elon Musk’s Starlink, which has launched considerably more satellites and is already conducting trials in the U.S. and the U.K.

Starlink is a subdivision of aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company SpaceX, which was founded by Musk in 2002.

In an interview in March, Musk said SpaceX could make up to $30 billion a year by providing broadband. He said that Starlink will be “helpful to telcos because Starlink will serve the hardest to serve customers” adding that 5G isn’t great for the countryside because “you need range.”

A second life

OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in March. At the time, CEO Adrian Steckel said in a statement: “Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis.”

The bankruptcy came after OneWeb had already raised $3 billion from investors including SoftBank and Hughes.

“Both are deeply familiar with our business,” said Sunil Bharti Mittal, executive chairman of OneWeb, in reference to SoftBank and Hughes, on Friday.

SoftBank is taking a seat on OneWeb’s board as part of the latest investment.

“We are excited to support OneWeb as it increases capacity and accelerates towards commercialisation,” said SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son in a statement.

While OneWeb seems to have risen from the ashes, it has also scaled back its ambitions. Earlier this week, OneWeb said that it had “streamlined its constellation” and reduced its U.S. market access request with the Federal Communications Commission from 47,884 to 6,372 satellites.

Backed by U.K. government

The U.K. government pledged to invest $500 million in OneWeb last July as part of a $1 billion-plus rescue bid.

The bid was made through a consortium involving India’s Bharti Global, which through Bharti Airtel, is the third-largest mobile operator in the world, with over 425 million customers.

The U.K. has taken stakes in several other high-tech companies to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

It hopes the OneWeb constellation will provide it with a precise Positioning, Navigation and Timing service that could be used in place of the EU’s Galileo sat-nav system, which the U.K. is banned from following Brexit. 

U.K. Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement: “Today’s investment brings the company one step closer to delivering its mission to provide global broadband connectivity for people, businesses and governments, while potentially unlocking new research, development and manufacturing opportunities in the U.K.”

OneWeb said it now has enough capital to launch its remaining low Earth orbit satellites by the end of 2022. So far, OneWeb has launched 110 satellites into space, with 36 going up in December. Starlink, meanwhile, already has over 500 in orbit.

Starlink is aiming to have 1,440 of its 260 kg (570 lb) satellites in orbit by late 2021.

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