Mittal seeks ISRO help to build affordable access terminals for OneWeb

OneWeb India
Image credit: OneWeb

Bharti Enterprises’ chairman Sunil Mittal has sought India’s space agency ISRO’s support to build affordable access terminals for OneWeb’s upcoming high-speed broadband services in the country.

By seeking the Indian Space Research Organisation’s cooperation in delivering these services, Mittal said that OneWeb would start delivering high-speed broadband services in India by early 2022 using a constellation of 648-odd low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites. 

“We will also seek to build a very strong cooperation agreement with ISRO to see the combination of a GEO-LEO constellation for Indian territory is put to use where we can combine the strength and capacity requirements of the nation,” Mittal said, adding that Bharti Enterprises has already earmarked a lot of areas in India where the benefits of this LEO constellation broadband connectivity will be made available.

He added that ISRO’s support will help develop user terminals which will cater to the needs of Indian requirements.

Bharti Enterprises’s overseas arm, Bharti Global, and the British government will now shortly reach out to the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) seeking secure landing rights to use OneWeb’s satellite systems capacity in India.

IN-SPACe is a central regulatory body which is mandated by the Indian government to attract private capital into the space sector. The body is also mandated to create a level playing field for private-sector satellite services companies.

Both Bharti and the British government will also seek landing rights permission from the Department of Space (DoS) authorities. These approvals will allow setting up of multiple gateways to use OneWeb’s satellite bandwidth capacity and deliver broadband services across India’s rural and remote corners, the Economic Times reported separately.

Mittal, during a recent webinar hosted by ISRO, said OneWeb’s plans are underway to build two or three gateway stations in India for domestic satellite-based broadband services. 

OneWeb will start test services in late 2021 once OneWeb’s coverage extends over arctic regions and northern European countries, Mittal said. OneWeb currently has 74 satellites in orbit.

India recently opened up Indian’s space sector and is aiming to create a level playing field for private satellite builders, satellite launchers and space-based service providers to invest aggressively in India.

Global satellite players earlier this year had also urged the Indian government to allow 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) through the automatic route to set up Indian private companies for participation in satellite broadband space and help play a greater role in broadband proliferation

A Bharti spokesperson separately told the Economic Times that India will be an important market for OneWeb.

“The Bharti Global-British government Bidco (which put in the winning bid for OneWeb) is working towards establishing its presence across all key global markets to execute activities, post-approvals from the court process,” the Bharti spokesperson added.

Bharti Enterprises and the UK government would jointly invest $1 billion in OneWeb that went bankrupt. Both will reportedly hold 45% each in OneWeb, while balance 10% will be owned by Hughes and other existing investors. 

Bharti Enterprises, one of the founding members of OneWeb, had a strategic stake in OneWeb prior to the bidding.

OneWeb, which aims to take on the likes Jeff Bezos’s Amazon-linked Project Kuiper and Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink, was founded in 2014 by entrepreneur Greg Wyler to build a constellation of satellites to deliver wireless broadband globally. It had raised about $3.3 billion in debt and equity from a clutch of investors such as SoftBank, Airbus, Qualcomm, Coca Cola, Intelsat, and Grupo Salinas.

SoftBank, which was OneWeb’s biggest investor, pulled back funding which forced the satellite company into bankruptcy in March. According to the US bankruptcy court filings, OneWeb has estimated assets in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion and liabilities in the same range.

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