The Bharti group has acquired a strategic minority stake in OneWeb, a satellite internet company that seeks to provide affordable internet access in rural and remote areas across the world. Other investors in OneWeb include Qualcomm Incorporated, Virgin Group, Airbus Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Intelsat and Grupo Salinas.
Together, the stakeholders have invested $500 million into the venture, which plans to start services by 2019.
Bharti Airtel, a Bharti group company, will be a preferred distributor of the service in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Africa, with a strong focus on rural markets, according to a Bharti statement. It will also have representation on the OneWeb board.
Bharti Airtel, which has operations in 20 countries across Asia and Africa, can leverage its investment by becoming a preferred distributor of these services across its operations. The company’s mobile networks cater to about 1.85 billion people, according to the company statement.
Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, said, “Access to affordable, high-speed internet is a powerful tool for economic development and empowerment of populations, particularly in emerging economies. OneWeb, an innovative system, backed by leading global corporations, will complement the efforts of governments and telecom operators across the globe to take internet to the masses.
“Currently, Arianespace and Virgin Galactic will be launching the satellites. However, I will be engaging with Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation) so that they could also be part and do satellite launches for the company…It (the initiative) is a very cost-effective solution. For instance, all that is needed is to put up a terminal, which will cost $250 and be powered by solar energy. You could run it instantly and get connected without the requirement of any towers. It is ideal for a village panchayat, which could buy and put this terminal on the top of a water tank,” Mittal said.
“The people around could be connected to 3G/LTE instantly, depending upon what they want. Similarly, government schools could be used as a hub to put these terminals and connect rural and remote areas easily. The beauty of this system is unlikely Iridium, for which you had to buy expensive satellite phones, here, you could be connected with your existing mobile phone,” he said, adding OneWeb would boost the Centre’s Digital India programme and its vision of broadband access to all.
Following the announcement of its joint venture with Airbus Space and Defence for a satellite production facility (with the highest volume globally), OneWeb has also announced the largest commercial rocket acquisition in history — about 65 rockets from Arianespace and Virgin Galactic. “The dream of fully bridging the digital divide is on track to be a reality in 2019,” said Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb. “We have the key elements in place — regulatory, technology, launches and satellites —, as well as commercial operators in about 50 countries and territories. We are committed to solving one of the world’s biggest problems —enabling affordable broadband internet access to everyone. We are excited about the next phase, which will involve working with countries, telecom operators and aid organisations to help them realise their goal of open and ubiquitous access.”
OneWeb has also raised investment from Airbus Group, The Coca-Cola Company, Grupo Salinas, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Qualcomm Incorporated and Virgin Group.
OneWeb satellites will provide high-speed connectivity to small user terminals that will transmit broadband access through Wi-Fi, long-term evolution technology, 3G and 2G to surrounding areas. The terminals can be solar-powered and used as community access points for schools, health centres, etc. Households and businesses will also be able to access these. If required, the terminals can also provide wireless coverage.