Bharti Enterprise’s investment in OneWeb was substantial enough to earn it a seat on the board of directors, and Bharti seems to have been one of the biggest four investors.
Such investments often are made for strategic reasons, not simply financial return. Owning a significant stake provides more influence over direction, timing, network capabilities and terminal features, for example.
Such investments often also include favorable pricing terms for substantial deployments.
The initial reaction most observers should have is that OneWeb should help Bharti Airtel in its rural India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, sub-Saharan Africa markets.
“These areas will benefit, because this will feed into my mobile network, and wherever, we cannot reach today,” said Bharti Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal.
As planned, Bharti can drop in a solar-powered earth station and create a small cell providing 3G and 4G mobile signals over an area about 300 meters (985 feet) to 400 meters (1312 feet) in radius.
That suggests a cell site with a diameter of up to 2600 feet, or about half a mile square.
What observers might not have expected is that the same network will help Bharti Airtel with dropped calls, something that has been a problem even in urban areas.
Even if the percentage of dropped calls seems not especially high (one to two percent), dropped calls apparently are a big customer irritant. Even in many developed markets, dropped call rates of two to four percent would not be terribly unusual.
So urban applications might be as important as rural solutions, as it turns out. It often will be the case that an area requires signal reinforcement but there is no available fiber backhaul, or zoning permission cannot be quickly obtained.
That allows Bharti to rectify signal coverage issues immediately, and then bridge the gap until more traditional solutions are possible (new towers and required backhaul).
Bharti and Airbus are among the largest investors in the $500 million funding round.