UK bid for satel­lite firm faces Cana­dian com­pe­ti­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By Matthew Field

BRI­TAIN is fac­ing the prospect of Canada gate­crash­ing its bid for OneWeb, the col­lapsed firm that No 10 hopes could pro­vide the UK with a sov­er­eign satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.

The Daily Tele­graph un­der­stands that Bri­tain’s bid, which will see the Gov­ern­ment take a 20pc stake in OneWeb for $500m (£406m), is fac­ing a fi­nal auc­tion with a Cana­dian bid from satel­lite firm Te­le­sat.

Mean­while, Bri­tain’s bid is un­der­stood to have the back­ing of Bharti En­ter­prises, the tele­coms gi­ant owned by In­dian bil­lion­aire Su­nil Mit­tal.

An auc­tion in a New York court will take place on Thurs­day for OneWeb, which de­clared bank­ruptcy in March.

OneWeb’s satel­lite net­work has been billed as a po­ten­tial ri­val to Galileo, the EU sat-nav pro­ject that the UK was ousted from af­ter Brexit.

The satel­lite com­pany was orig­i­nally plan­ning to build a 650-strong broad­band con­stel­la­tion. How­ever, of­fi­cials be­lieve it could be used to de­velop a sov­er­eign ver­sion of a satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.

OneWeb filed for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion in the US in March af­ter Ja­pan’s SoftBank, its big­gest backer, pulled out amid the coro­n­avirus cri­sis. OneWeb has al­ready spent bil­lions of pounds on its tech­nol­ogy.

Pro­po­nents of the deal say the tech­nol­ogy could pro­vide a vi­able, cheaper al­ter­na­tive to build­ing a full GPS sys­tem from scratch. Scep­tics say the tech­nol­ogy is untested. Al­though OneWeb is a UK reg­is­tered com­pany, its man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties are in Florida.

The UK’s bid for OneWeb was signed off at a meet­ing last week with Boris John­son and Rishi Su­nak, and was only sub­mit­ted at the last minute ahead of a dead­line on Fri­day. Do­minic Cum­mings, the Prime Min­is­ter’s aide, is a strong sup­porter of the deal.

Te­le­sat was one of OneWeb’s main ri­vals for build­ing a low-earth-or­bit satel­lite net­work. Te­le­sat is owned by Nas­daq-listed Lo­ral Space and Canada’s Pub­lic Sec­tor Pension Board.

Chi­nese bid­ders who had ex­pressed an in­ter­est in OneWeb prior to Fri­day’s dead­line in­cluded Geely, the owner of Volvo. But their in­ter­est is un­der­stood to have wa­vered amid con­cerns a deal would be blocked by US reg­u­la­tors.

Bloomberg re­ported yes­ter­day [MON] Bharti En­ter­prises, which owns a ma­jor In­dian tele­coms firm, had also made a bid for OneWeb. The firm is owned by In­dian telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ty­coon Mr Mit­tal. The Tele­graph un­der­stands the bid is in fact part of the UK-backed con­sor­tium. OneWeb de­clined to com­ment. Te­le­sat de­clined to com­ment.

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