OneWeb ‘needs $2bn more’ as Mittal takes charge of satellite project

Neil Masterson OneWeb.jpg

Airtel founder Sunil Mittal will be executive chairman of the revived satellite company OneWeb, which has emerged from US bankruptcy protection.

He said at the weekend that OneWeb will need “fresh money to complete this constellation” of US$2 billion to $2.25 billion.

At the same time OneWeb has recruited a Thomson Reuters executive, Neil Masterson (pictured), to be CEO of the low-Earth-orbit (LEO) business, which will be based in the UK.

“This is a telecom network in space,” Mittal told the Press Trust of India. He will administer his $500 million share in OneWeb via his Bharti Global subsidiary, whilethe UK government will have another $500 million stake.

Mittal’s company Bharti Airtel is one of the three significant surviving mobile operators in India and it also has networks across Africa.

Mittal told Indian media that OneWeb aims for global coverage by the middle of 2022, using an eventual 648 satellites, with 290-300 in service by October 2021.

Launches will resume on 17 December, by French company Arianespace using the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, close to the Chinese border.

OneWeb said it plans commercial services to the UK and Arctic in late 2021 and to the whole world in 2022.

Masterson, who is a newcomer to the telecoms and satellite industries, spent 20 years at financial information service Thomson Reuters, latterly as chief transformation officer and then co-COO. He announced his departure from the New York-based company in April, finally leaving at the end of July.

He said in a statement: “OneWeb has a strong social purpose to improve the world’s access to information, which I share. It has great talent, a compelling commercial opportunity, and is supported by committed and knowledgeable owners and investors.”

The UK government’s business secretary, Alok Sharma, said: “Access to our own global fleet of satellites has the potential to connect people worldwide, providing fast UK-backed broadband from the Shetlands to the Sahara and from pole to pole.”

He added: “OneWeb will provide a new source of broadband connectivity for businesses, communities, and governments around the world. It could also improve connectivity in a broad range of sectors, including aviation, maritime, government, and enterprise customers, unlocking digital services and applications in a wide range of locations that historically have not access to low latency broadband connectivity.”

OneWeb’s previous CEO, Adrian Steckel, will be an adviser to the board, said the company.