Startups

Satellite Internet Startup OneWeb Closes After SoftBank Fund Raise Fails

OneWeb, which wanted to make internet access worldwide and widespread, has filed for bankruptcy and let most of its employees go after it couldn’t get any more funding, according to a press release.

The lack of funding includes any new investment from its biggest backer, SoftBank, the Financial Times (FT) reported.

CEO Adrian Steckel blamed the turmoil on COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“OneWeb has been building a truly global communications network to provide high-speed low latency broadband everywhere,” Steckel said in the release. “Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. We remain convinced of the social and economic value of our mission to connect everyone everywhere.”

Before the pandemic, OneWeb was discussing with SoftBank the possibility of raising another $2 billion in a funding round, FT reported. SoftBank and OneWeb then failed to agree on how to approach a possible bridge loan that would have given OneWeb the flexibility to keep looking for new investors as markets fell into chaos. Those talks, according to some people close to the situation, ended up falling out right as OneWeb was launching over 30 micro-satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Those satellites were set to go to a constellation that could have eventually harbored 640 satellites, an ambition that would have gone with the startup’s goal of beaming affordable broadband services around the world, even to inaccessible places like remote regions, ships at sea and planes, according to FT.

OneWeb had previously raised funds from investors including Airbus, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Qualcomm, Bharti Enterprises and Grupo Salinas, which landed it a $3.4 billion haul with which to carry out its ambitions, FT reported. With its current collapse, it has become one of the more dire casualties among tech startups in the current coronavirus-riddled environment.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s support of OneWeb made it a formidable project, and Son’s $1 billion infusion into the project was handed off as a gift to U.S. President Donald Trump as he was first elected, with Son saying it was part of a pledge to create new American jobs.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon’s Project Kuiper were other similar satellite companies with goals of trying to expand satellite internet capabilities. These companies, along with over 400 others, have seen more than $20 billion in investments overall as people look with enthusiasm at satellite technology, according to FT.

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