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Sunil Mittal on OneWeb acquisition, broadband pricing, and competition with Starlink

In an exclusive interview with NDTV Profit, Sunil Mittal, Founder & Chairman, Bharti Enterprise.




As Bharti Airtel Ltd.-backed OneWeb and Elon Musk’s Starlink are waiting for the Union government to allot spectrum, the former is looking to reach remote regions and offer rates close to terrestrial telecom.

“Our ground station is ready in Mehsana in Gujarat and awaiting allocation of spectrum for satcom so that services can be launched,” the company’s founder-chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal told NDTV Profit.

He said that with the Leo constellation of satellites, pricing has been bought down while helping them provide global coverage.

When it comes to rescuing businesses “Indians are very fast movers and entrepreneurial” in nature, Mittal said. The decision to acquire OneWeb was taken in days, he said. He remembered the invitation of the British government was right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the successful bidding of the company, they have set up a constellation of 640 satellites from U.K. to cover the entire globe, he said. They have been successful in getting investment from French, Korean and the U.K. government. However, India still had the largest investment, with Bharti Airtel being the major investor.

“Telecom is my area of interest, and this (acquisition) expands the area of broadband connectivity,” Mittal said.

He said India has a strong presence in the space sector. The government has held a “bull position” and not “fallen in” the spectrum debate, he said, adding that he hopes the government gives the allocation soon so that they can start serving in remote areas in Kashmir and Rajasthan.

According to Mittal, India is a major player in the space sector and with OneWeb they can reach people where there is no connectivity through the Leo constellation.

Starlink, according to Mittal, is a “formidable competitor” with a wide presence. However, OneWeb’s business model is different and focuses on providing services to governments, defence forces, mining companies, warehousing and manufacturing, maritime, oil rigs, etc.

According to him, U.K. has been a “natural choice” for Indians to set up businesses. He said the acquisition of OneWeb is a perfect example of the relation between India and U.K. He also said that the position of India over the last seven eight years has evolved.

U.K. Knighthood Recognises India’s Rise
King Charles III of Britain has bestowed an honorary knighthood on Mittal in recognition of his efforts to strengthen business ties between the two countries. The Honorary Knighthood, the Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE), is among the highest honours conferred by the monarch on civilians.

“This award recognises India’s rise in the world,” Mittal said.

Indian businesses are recognised as good corporate citizens in the U.K. and the country has been a natural choice to set up operations, the Bharti Enterprises chairman said.

“The U.K. has always been a natural choice for Indian businesses,” he said, citing examples of the Tata Group’s lucrative acquisitions of British companies in steel, tea and luxury cars. “It’s only natural that we looked at the U.K. for business opportunities.”

He said the U.K. government has been a good facilitator of Indian businesses in the country. NDTV Profit

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