Musk Satellite Rival OneWeb Says Customers Lining Up Ahead of 2021 Launch

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OneWeb is closing in on wholesale deals to help pay for its multi-billion dollar satellite constellation, the startup’s new boss said.

The London-based company is racing against Elon Musk’s SpaceX to beam broadband internet to isolated regions from space. It sent up 36 of the fridge-sized satellites last week, taking the total in orbit to 146, still well short of the 648 planned.

“We have memoranda of understanding and advanced discussions taking place, and final negotiations,” Chief Executive Officer Neil Masterson told Bloomberg News.

Musk Satellite Rival OneWeb Says Customers Lining Up Ahead of 2021 Launch

Masterson said he’s in talks with phone carriers and providers of communication services for the maritime and aviation industries, and expects to finalize deals in the coming days. OneWeb is in “quite advanced conversations” with possible partners in Canada, the U.K., the Nordic region, Australia and Africa, “so we’re really feeding the pipeline here,” he added.

Masterson, a former Thomson Reuters Corp. executive, was appointed in November after OneWeb was rescued from bankruptcy for $1 billion in a surprise swoop by the U.K. government and Indian telecommunications group Bharti Global.

Former lead shareholder SoftBank Group Corp. returned to invest $350 million in January. That still leaves a funding gap of roughly $1 billion. Masterson said he was confident on OneWeb’s funding, without saying how long it could continue operations using existing funds.

Masterson said OneWeb is on track to go live in northern latitudes by the end of the year, including Alaska, Canada, Greenland, the U.K. and the Nordics, as well as the oceans and airspace surrounding them.

It’s going to sell capacity wholesale to businesses and governments, unlike SpaceX’s Starlink which is targeting consumers directly and has begun to sign up some users in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

OneWeb already has deals with Hughes Satellite Systems Corp. and Alaskan telecom company PDI. It could also sell capacity to telecommunication providers like Britain’s BT Group Plc: The two companies have discussed cooperating to reach rural customers, Bloomberg reported last month.

The satellite business is changing rapidly and demand is strong enough for more than one low-earth orbit constellation to survive, said Masterson. But the faster OneWeb achieves its goals, “the stronger our voice will be in the inevitable restructuring of this industry,” he added.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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