Bharti Enterprises Ltd has agreed to acquire a strategic minority stake in satellite firm OneWeb Ltd, a startup backed by wireless tech major Qualcomm Inc and Richard Branson-led Virgin Group among others, for an undisclosed amount, according to a press release.
Bharti Enterprises is the privately owned group holding firm of Bharti Group.
Apart from Qualcomm and Virgin Group, other investors in the startup include Airbus Group, Coca-Cola Company, Grupo Salinas, Hughes Network Systems, (Hughes), a subsidiary of EchoStar Corp, and Intelsat, who have together invested $500 million in OneWeb.
Based in Britain's Channel Islands, OneWeb was founded in 2012 by telecom entrepreneur Greg Wyler. The company is building a communication network with an initial constellation of 648 low earth orbit satellites to take affordable internet connectivity to every part of the globe, and plans to launch the services by 2019.
The satellite, each of which will weigh less than 330 pounds (150 kg), will fly in orbits about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) above earth. The satellites will provide high speed connectivity to a small user terminal which transmits broadband access via WiFi, LTE, 3G and 2G to surrounding area.
“The dream of fully bridging the digital divide is on track to be a reality in 2019…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,” said Wyler.
With the investment, Bharti Enterprises’ telecommunication arm Bharti Airtel will become a preferred distributor of the service in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Africa, with a strong focus on rural markets, the statement 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,” Bharti Enterprises' chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal said.
“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 government’s Digital India programme and its vision of broadband access for all,” Mittal added.
At present, Bharti Airtel covers a population of over 1.85 billion people through its telecommunication network and is supported by a vast distribution set-up with presence in rural areas.
OneWeb user terminals contain embedded LTE, 3G, 2G and Wifi 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.
Essentially it would act as an additional network connector in areas where the regular telecom tower is either not operational or down. For the users it promises a seamless connectivity as the terminal would get to work as soon as a user in its network moves beyond a telecom tower.