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Ergen’s Hughes becomes third investor in OneWeb revival attempt with $50m

Pradman Kaul Hughes.jpg

One of the shareholders in the bankrupt OneWeb satellite company has joined the UK-Indian rescue attempt with a US$50 million investment.

Hughes Network Systems, which is part of Charlie Ergen’s EchoStar, will join the UK government and Bharti Enterprises, which have already agreed to contribute $500 million each.

The deal restores Hughes’s place as a technology and distribution partner to OneWeb, which had launched 74 satellites – out of a planned constellation expected to number 650 – before the start-up venture went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.

Hughes president Pradman Kaul (pictured) said: “Our continuing and strengthened involvement with OneWeb extends naturally from our position as a leading geostationary satellite operator and ground network innovator, along with a meaningful partnership with Bharti and longstanding relationship with the UK through our business operations in both countries.”

Ergen founded EchoStar in 1980, and later split off Dish Network, a satellite TV company. EchoStar acquired Hughes Network Systems in 2011 for $2 billion.

Hughes runs an internet service, HughesNet, in the US, using geostationary satellites, and also provides military, government and enterprise services.

Its Indian subsidiary already plans to merge its satellite operations there with those of Bharti Airtel, the telecoms business that is a sister company of Bharti Enterprises.

Hughes’s involvement in OneWeb promises to add low-latency services to its existing geostationary-based services. OneWeb’s satellites orbit at 1,200km above the ground, giving a round-trip latency of 8ms.

Kaul said: “This global consortium brings the right players together to fulfil the promise of the OneWeb constellation in deploying low-latency services for communities, enterprises, governments, airplanes and ships – complementing geostationary connectivity and ushering in the new era of multi-transport services that will serve growing bandwidth demand around the world. We look forward to doing our part in developing this groundbreaking technology and bringing those services to market.”

Bharti’s founder Sunil Bharti Mittal welcomed the investment which, he says “underlines OneWeb’s exciting commercial prospects, reflected in the ongoing discussions with some of the world’s leading strategic and financial investors”.

That statement by Bharti Mittal hints strongly that the $1.05 billion gathered so far from the UK government, Bharti and now Hughes will not be enough to turn OneWeb into a viable operation.

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