A French firm has pumped £400 million into OneWeb as it launches a fleet of satellites to improve global internet connectivity.

Eutelsat’s backing gives it a 24% stake in the UK-based low earth orbit satellite communications company. The investment is expected to be completed in the second half of 2021, subject to regulatory approvals.

OneWeb is also owned by the UK government and Bharti Global after each committed $500m to help it emerge from bankruptcy last year, with SoftBank and Hughes Network Systems LLC also significant backers after funding earlier this year. The Eutelsat investment brings OneWeb to $1.9 billion in total financing

OneWeb’s 648 LEO satellite fleet will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity, placing it as a rival to Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the US. This week it launched another 36 satellites into its constellation, bringing the system to 182 satellites.  

The company has only two more launches left in its ‘Five to 50’ programme that will cement the company’s ability to start connectivity services to the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, the Artic Seas and Canada, with global service available next year. 

OneWeb’s mission is to offer fast internet access to the entire world, including a ‘pathway to 5G’.   

It says its partnership with Eutelsat, a global geostationary satellite operator, will enhance both companies’ commercial potential, leveraging Eutelsat’s established commercial reach to governments and enterprise customers in addition to its strong institutional relationships, recognised technical expertise and global fleet.  

After OneWeb completes the full deployment of the constellation, the company anticipates annual revenues of approximately $1 billion in year three or soon thereafter. 

“We are delighted with the investment from Eutelsat, which validates our strategy, technology and commercial approach,” said OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson. 

We now have 80% of the necessary financing for the Gen 1 fleet, of which nearly 30% is already in space.  

Eutelsat’s global distribution network advances the market entry opportunities for OneWeb and we look forward to working together to capitalise on the growth opportunity and accelerate the pace of execution.” 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Today’s investment is another giant leap forward for OneWeb in realising their ambition to provide global broadband connectivity around the globe. 

“Eutelsat brings more than forty years of experience in the global satellite industry and this exciting new partnership puts OneWeb on a strong commercial footing, and the UK at the forefront of the latest developments in low Earth orbit technology. 

“This comes alongside yesterday’s exciting news that a further 36 satellites were launched into space and demonstrates the momentum behind OneWeb and the promising efforts to provide connectivity to some of the world’s most remote places.” 

Rodolphe Belmer, Eutelsat CEO, said: “We are excited to become a shareholder and partner in OneWeb in the run up to its commercial launch later in the year and to participate in the substantial opportunity represented by the LEO segment within our industry.  

We are confident in OneWeb’s right-to-win thanks to its earliness to market, priority spectrum rights and evolving, scalable technology. With more than 40 years’ expertise in the global satellite industry, we look forward to working alongside the UK Government, Bharti and the other shareholders to open new opportunities and market access to ensure OneWeb maximises its potential.”