Kolkata: Bharti Enterprises Chairman Sunil Mittal said OneWeb, the global LEO (low earth orbit) satellite communications company, will invest around Rs 250-300 crore ($30-40 million) in setting up new ground stations in India as it gears up to launch high-speed satellite broadband services in India next year.
Mittal said Bharti Airtel’s equity participation in OneWeb’s India JV would be a tiny sum in its role as custodian of the UK-based LEO satellite operator in India and South Asian markets.
"Airtel will be a partner of choice for OneWeb in India and its equity participation into the OneWeb India JV will be of the order of magnitude of $5-7 million only," Mittal said.
He, though, clarified that Airtel has no plans to buy Bharti Enterprises’ stake in OneWeb UK or invest into the global satellite communications company.
He was speaking at an investor call Monday to discuss Airtel’s upcoming Rs 21,000 crore rights issue, the proceeds of which will be used to tap growth opportunities, with 5G set to hit India in 2022 and also growing its digital business.
Bharti Global, the overseas arm of Bharti Enterprises, recently said it will invest an additional $500 million (Rs 3,714 crore) into OneWeb. On completion of the investment – likely by the second half of 2021 -- Bharti’s overall investment in OneWeb will rise to $1 billion and it will hold 38.6% stake in the global satellite company. Bharti Enterprises is the holding company of Airtel.
Last month, Mittal had said OneWeb is in talks with Sasken Technologies, ISRO’s commercial arm, NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL) and a clutch of global tech companies to sharply reduce user access terminal costs before launching fast satellite broadband services in India by May 2022.
In India, OneWeb had applied to the telecom department for two permits – a national long distance (NLD) and a GMPCS (global mobile personal communications by satellite services) licence for delivering satellite broadband services using its global LEO constellation. DoT has issued a letter of Intent (LoI) to OneWeb for NLD services via satellite, while the one for GMPCS is awaited.
Co-owned by Bharti group and the UK government, OneWeb is readying to take on Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper venture in the relatively nascent fast broadband-from-space segment.
Industry experts see India as a key emerging satellite internet market with an almost $1 billion annual revenue opportunity. This, since nearly 75% of rural India does not have access to broadband as many locations are still without cellular or fibre connectivity.