In an electrifying keynote to start the second day of SATELLITE 2021, Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Enterprises, announced a breakthrough partnership between OneWeb and AT&T and set out his plans for OneWeb over the next few years.
OneWeb has made no secret that it wants to work with telcos around the world, and has already been making progress. But on Wednesday, the company took a sizable next step by announcing that AT&T, one of the largest telcos in the United States, will use OneWeb capacity. Given AT&T’s position in the U.S. market, this is a huge statement of intent from OneWeb.
However, it seems the deal with AT&T might only be the tip of the iceberg, with many other potential telco partnerships in the pipeline.
Bharti Mittal said, “The vision we had from day one is that we would distribute our services through partnerships. I personally believe in the power of joining hands and coming together, rather than competing with everyone in telecoms. We have Alaska Communications, BT, and other players that are joining hands with us. My first port of call is the telecoms industry. There are dozens of conversations at very advanced stages now.”
OneWeb will have its full constellation of nearly 650 satellites up and running next year. Bharti Mittal told the SATELLITE 2021 audience that it was important to add OneWeb to AT&T’s mix and he sees the company using OneWeb capacity for high quality cellular backhaul. Bharti Mittal highlighted the fact that the FCC still believes the U.S. still needs $16 billion to $20 billion invested in rural connectivity to bridge the digital divide.
“It shows we are on a good footing [when looking to play a part in the U.S. broadband market],” said Mittal.
With OneWeb launching satellites regularly into Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), Bharti Mittal said his most important work is to make sure the company has market access and regulatory approvals between September and the end of next year, as it looks to sign more deals with telcos.
One of the themes of day two of SATELLITE 2021 was the vision of achieving universal connectivity for all. Bharti Mittal believes the world is very close to achieving this vision.
“Whether you are flying over ocean or living in a small hamlet in the DRC, for example, we will be able to serve them. We have an important role to connect the world,” he said.
He also talked about the future for OneWeb beyond its initial constellation. “We are working on the second generation of satellites. Let’s see how the future goes. If this first generation succeeds, LEO will open up a new era of applications and deliver various services to the globe.”
Bharti Mittal’s keynote symbolized OneWeb’s renewed vision after the operator filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just after SATELLITE 2020.
Bharti Mittal admits he is a true believer in the company, so much so that he added another $500 million in investment in the company. “Connecting the world is a key mantra. There are billions of people who are not connected right now. OneWeb has the power to change that,” he said.
He highlighted the fact that in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa where Bharti operates, there are too many people who cannot get connectivity.
“We have a very low percentage of people connected in poorer countries. The promise is to get low latency, high-speed broadband services to them from a satellite. We believe we are here to solve the problem of worldwide connectivity. We are pleased that a number of satellite players are also looking at the same way of solving this problem. I am also glad to hear that Elon Musk is pivoting to talk about partnerships with telecoms companies. We are here to collaborate with telecom companies, and not compete with them. In a voice-centric world, it mattered less. It matters a lot more now.” VS