Bharti Enterprises firm bids for bankrupt OneWeb

NEW DELHI: A Bharti Enterprises group company is believed to have put in a bid for Softbank-backed OneWeb, a satellite operator, a person familiar with the matter said.

“There has been some interest from Bharti Enterprises in OneWeb,” the person told ET.

Bharti Enterprises, which is believed to have put in a bid backed by the UK government, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Bharti Enterprises is the holding company of Bharti Airtel, India’s second largest telco, which has a market cap of over Rs3.1 lakh crore at its closing share price of Rs567.25 on the BSE Monday.

Separately, news reports suggest that the UK government was planning to put in around $500 million to OneWeb alongside other investors, as part of OneWeb’s bankruptcy proceedings.

OneWeb has estimated assets in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion and liabilities in the same range, according to US bankruptcy court filings. The company had said that bids were to be opened Friday. But if there was no clear winner in the eyes of the US judge and OneWeb’s creditors, an auction would be held on July 2.

Back in 2015, Bharti Enterprises had acquired a minority stake in OneWeb, a global consortium comprising Qualcomm, Virgin Group, Airbus, Coca Cola, Intelsat and Grupo Salinas, among others, which aims to build satellites to deliver affordable broadband to all parts of the world.

But in May 2020, OneWeb said it had voluntarily filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11, saying, “The Company intends to use these proceedings to pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company.”

The company said it had successfully launched 74 satellites as part of its constellation, secured valuable global spectrum, begun development on a range of user terminals for a variety of customer markets, has half of its 44 ground stations completed or in development, and performed successful demonstrations of its system with broadband speeds in excess of 400 Mbps and latency of 32 ms.

“In addition, OneWeb’s commercial team has seen significant early global demand for OneWeb’s high-speed, low-latency connectivity services from governments and leaders in the automotive, maritime, enterprise, and aviation industries,” OneWeb said in its filings.

The company added that it was in talks for funding since the start of 2020, but that had stalled due to Covid 19 outbreak.

OneWeb’s biggest creditor Airbus has said it backed a bid involving the UK government.

“The reported support of the UK government for a bid for OneWeb looks positive to support UK’s ambition to continue to be a leading player in space. As an original investor, and the manufacturer, in OneWeb, Airbus is pleased that a way forward looks likely,” the company said. “…We would look forward to supporting OneWeb in the next phase of their business and growing the UK contribution to this market changing business.”

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