Two of Europe's biggest internet satellite companies are merging to take on Starlink

OneWeb and Eutelsat plan to combine their fleets.

Handout . / reuters

Internet satellite operators OneWeb and Eutelsat are planning to merge in the hopes of becoming a stronger rival to SpaceX's Starlink. The merger, which is subject to approval from regulators and Eutelsat shareholders, is expected to close by mid-2023 and it values OneWeb at $3.4 billion. Shareholders of OneWeb and Eutelsat will each own half of the combined company.

Eutelsat has a fleet of 36 geostationary orbit satellites. These will be combined with OneWeb's cluster of low-earth orbit satellites, which can provide internet access from the skies. OneWeb currently has 428 satellites in orbit of a planned 648 in its first-generation network.

OneWeb and Eutelsat expect to have combined revenues of €1.2 billion ($1.56 billion) in the 2022-23 fiscal year. Eutelsat chair Dominique D’Hinnin and CEO Eva Berneke will remain in those positions in the merged entity. OneWeb investor Sunil Bharti Mittal will become co-chairman.

The merger comes after OneWeb stumbled in its bid to become a viable competitor to Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper. OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2020 as it sought a buyer. The UK government and Mittal's Bharti Global each paid $500 million for a 45 percent stake in OneWeb. The company secured additional funding in early 2021 to launch hundreds of satellites.

More recently, OneWeb was caught in the crossfire between Russia and the West following the former's invasion of Ukraine. UK sanctions prompted Russia to block launches of OneWeb satellites — it demanded that the UK sell its stake in OneWeb and wanted assurances the satellites wouldn't be used for military purposes. OneWeb ended up turning to its rival SpaceX to launch the remainder of its first-gen satellites.

After the expected merger, the UK will retain a "special share" in OneWeb as well as exclusive rights over the company. These grant the government a significant say in national security controls over the network and veto rights over certain decisions, such as the location of OneWeb's headquarters.