Sunil Bharti Mittal, the founder of Bharti Enterprises. Photo: AFP

Indian telecom giant Bharti Enterprises and the UK government have jointly purchased at auction the bankrupt satellite operator OneWeb, according to media reports. The UK government will invest US$500 million, while Bharti Global, an arm of Sunil Mittal’s conglomerate Bharti Enterprises, will also invest a similar sum.

The deal will allow OneWeb to complete the construction of a global satellite constellation that will provide enhanced broadband and other services to mobile and fixed terminals in countries around the world.

Founded in 2012 and headquartered in London, OneWeb makes low-Earth orbit satellites that provide high-speed communications. The company has so far launched 74 satellites and plans to launch a total of 648. It also has a parallel operation in Virginia in the US.

The UK is keen to support OneWeb because it has been barred by the European Union from accessing Galileo, its satellite navigation system, post-Brexit. Hence it wants to form a new national alternative and expects OneWeb to provide similar services.

Bharti, which has a presence in 20 countries across Asia and Africa and 425 million customers, will provide commercial and operational leadership for this venture. Its network will be the testing ground for OneWeb’s new products and services. In 2015, Bharti participated in a funding round for OneWeb along with Qualcomm, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Airbus Group NV.

In its regulatory filings, OneWeb said it raised about $3.3 billion in debt and equity financing from shareholders, including SoftBank, since its inception. The company filed for bankruptcy in the US on March 27, claiming it had insufficient funds due to the market turbulence caused by Covid-19. Its biggest investor, SoftBank Group, had pulled funding. The auction was held in the US on Thursday.

OneWeb is competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink project and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon-linked Project Kuiper, as well as from incumbents such as Inmarsat, Intelsat SA and Eutelsat Communications SA.

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