Bharti Enterprises is among a group of international investors that have acquired minority stakes in satellite firm OneWeb, which has raised $500 million in Series A funding.
The investors also include Airbus Group, Qualcomm, Hughes Network Systems, Intelsat, Coca-Cola, Virgin Group and Totalplay. Both Virgin and Qualcomm were early backers of OneWeb, which has grand plans to deliver high-speed connectivity across the world via satellite by 2019.
The venture plans to deploy about 650 satellites, each of which will weigh less than 300 pounds (136 kg), to offer affordable internet, both mobile and fixed, around the world.
Both Bharti Enterprises founder and chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal and Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders will get a seat on the board. They will join Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Qualcomm executive chairman Paul Jacobs and OneWeb founder Greg Wyler on the board.
Last week OneWeb announced it will form a joint venture with Airbus Defence and Space for the design and manufacture of 900 low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
Bharti will be a preferred distributor of the service in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Africa with a focus on rural markets, the company said in a statement.
Bharti’s Mittal said that OneWeb will complement the efforts of governments and telecoms operators across the globe to take internet to the masses. “In India, which is on the cusp of a massive data revolution, hundreds of millions of consumers in rural areas will benefit from this initiative and it will boost the government’s Digital India programme and its vision of broadband access for all. Similarly, nations across Africa will be able to fulfill their digital inclusion agenda and aid economic growth through these affordable services.”
He said that having witnessed the deep positive impact of enabling communications across its global operations, “Bharti is delighted to be a part of this initiative that will accelerate the journey towards building a digitally inclusive world”.
OneWeb also announced what it said is the largest commercial rocket acquisition ever of more than 65 rockets, including 21 Soyuz launch orders from Arianespace and 39 launches from Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne.