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Bharti picks up minority stake in OneWeb
MUMBAI: Telecom giant Bharti Airtel’s parent company Bharti Enterprises has picked up a strategic minority stake in OneWeb, a global consortium initiative aimed at providing affordable internet access to the masses.
With a $500 million funding from multiple global investors including Qualcomm Incorporated, Virgin Group, Airbus Group, Coca-Cola Company, Intelsat, Hughes Network Systems and Grupo Salinas, the project is expected to roll out services in 2019.
OneWeb’s aim is to build a communications network with an initial constellation of 648 low earth orbit satellites that will provide connectivity to billions of people around the world.
The OneWeb User Terminals contain embedded LTE, 3G, 2G and Wi-Fi access capabilities that extend the reach of mobile operators. With more than 10 terabits per second of new capacity, the system will extend the networks of mobile operators and ISPs to serve new coverage areas, bringing voice and data access to consumers, businesses, schools, healthcare institutions and other end users.
With the initial investment, Bharti will have representation on the board of the company. Moreover, it will be able to leverage the investment by becoming a preferred distributor of these services across its operations in India and Africa.
Bharti Enterprises chairperson Sunil Bharti Mittal said, “Access to affordable high-speed Internet is a powerful tool for economic development and empowerment of populations, particularly in emerging economies.”
He added that OneWeb will complement the efforts of governments and telecom operators across the globe to take the internet to the masses.
“In India, which is on the cusp of a massive data revolution, hundreds millions of consumers in rural areas will benefit from this initiative and it will boost the government’s Digital India programme and its vision of broadband access for all. Similarly, nations across Africa will be able to fulfil their digital inclusion agenda and aid economic growth through these affordable services,” he added.
OneWeb, which also has a joint venture with Airbus Space and Defence to build the highest-volume satellite production factory in the world, also announced the largest commercial rocket acquisition ever of more than 65 rockets from Arianespace and Virgin Galactic.
Arianespace will be providing 21 Soyuz rockets from three separate launch pads on a firm schedule, five Soyuz options and three Ariane 6 options. Virgin Galactic will be providing 39 separate launches.
“The dream of fully bridging the digital divide is on track to be a reality in 2019,” said OneWeb founder Greg Wyler. “Together with our committed and visionary founding shareholders, we have the key elements in place—regulatory, technology, launches, satellites, as well as commercial operators in over 50 countries and territories. We are committed to solving one of the world’s biggest problems—enabling affordable broadband internet access for everyone. We are excited about the next phase, which will involve working with countries, telecom operators, and aid organisations to help them realise their goals of open and ubiquitous access.”
OneWeb satellites will provide high-speed connectivity to a small user terminal that transmits broadband access via Wi-Fi, LTE, 3G and 2G to the surrounding area. This access will operate on the mobile operator’s billing platform with the mobile operator’s cell phone.
If there is no macrocell tower around, or if the terminal is used for densification (i.e. the macro tower is overloaded), then the Airtel user’s cell phone will connect to the terminal and operate as normal, using either the prepaid or postpaid billing platform of Airtel.
The terminals can be optionally solar-powered and used as community access points on schools, healthcare centres, or other locations. The terminals can be placed on any home or business establishment and an RJ45 cable can be run into the house to connect to a small device similar to a cable modem.
At the same time, the terminal would, if necessary, provide the local wireless coverage.