Abu Dhabi may join Bri­tish bid for OneWeb

Min­is­ters dis­cuss team­ing up with £185bn Gulf fund to take a 20pc stake in the bank­rupt satel­lite op­er­a­tor

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By James Tit­comb in San Fran­cisco and Matthew Field

THE Gov­ern­ment is in talks with a £185bn United Arab Emi­rates sovereign wealth fund about pump­ing mil­lions into a Bri­tish of­fer for the bank­rupt satel­lite op­er­a­tor OneWeb.

The UK is in late dis­cus­sions with Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, one of the Gulf na­tion’s big­gest funds, about join­ing the con­sor­tium bid­ding for OneWeb. The auc­tion for the An­glo-Amer­i­can com­pany was tak­ing place yes­ter­day and a win­ner could be an­nounced as soon as to­day.

Any in­vest­ment from Mubadala would be likely to amount to hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds. Boris John­son has signed up to putting as much as $500m (£400m) into a 20pc stake in OneWeb, and the In­dian tele­coms gi­ant Bharti En­ter­prises is also in­volved in the Bri­tish-backed con­sor­tium, but fur­ther in­vest­ment is likely to be needed when res­cu­ing OneWeb.

It emerged that SoftBank, the Ja­panese con­glom­er­ate that was OneWeb’s big­gest in­vestor be­fore it went bust in March, could also back the bid.

SoftBank, which owned 37pc of One- Web, has held talks with UK of­fi­cials about join­ing, Sky News re­ported.

The Daily Tele­graph un­der­stands that the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial back­ing for a ri­val bid from Ot­tawa-based tele­coms com­pany Te­le­sat, which has emerged as the UK’s main com­peti­tor. OneWeb at­tracted bil­lions of dol­lars in fund­ing for plans to build a “mega con­stel­la­tion” of satel­lites that would beam in­ter­net to far-flung cor­ners of the globe, but launched just 74 satel­lites into or­bit be­fore fund­ing dried up, and SoftBank, headed by Masayoshi Son, re­fused to pump fur­ther cash into it.

The Gov­ern­ment is be­lieved to be in­ter­ested in the project both as a way of boost­ing ru­ral broad­band cov­er­age and of launch­ing a satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem that would ri­val the EU’s Galileo project and Amer­ica’s GPS.

It is hoped a bid would be a state­ment of Bri­tish com­mit­ment to space. How­ever, ex­perts have raised con­cerns about whether OneWeb’s satel­lites would be suited to a nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.

In­volve­ment from Abu Dhabi about a UK space project may at­tract at­ten­tion over the coun­try’s hu­man rights record. The coun­try has been crit­i­cised for sti­fling free­dom of speech, labour abuses suf­fered by mi­grant work­ers and the tor­ture of pris­on­ers. In 2018, a Bri­tish aca­demic was sen­tenced to life in prison in Abu Dhabi for al­legedly spy­ing on be­half of the UK, although he was re­leased af­ter al­most six months.

Mubadala al­ready owns satel­lite in­ter­net and TV com­pany Yah­sat, which has five satel­lites in or­bit.

OneWeb, SoftBank and Mubadala did not com­ment.

Masayoshi Son, the chief and founder of Ja­pan’s SoftBank, has also held talks with UK of­fi­cials about join­ing the bid

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