OneWeb has filed for bankruptcy and in turn laid off 85 percent of its workforce. Citing the coronavirus epidemic as the reason for this move, the company is looking for a buyer. However, as the COVID-19 crisis trudges on, a buyer might prove difficult to find.
The company was founded as L5 in 2012. The company secured radio-spectrum rights to build a low-Earth-orbiting constellation of satellites to provide broadband Internet services. Since then, it has undergone multiple name changes and financial backers before emerging in its final form.
OneWeb was founded by Greg Wyler, who previously started O3b. Although OneWeb was initially funded by Google, Wyler left the Internet search company in September 2014. Preliminary financial backers include Virgin Galactic and Qualcomm. During a Series A funding round, which closed in June 2015, companies including Airbus, EchoStar, Intelsat, and Coca-Cola also invested. Plans called for a network of up to nearly 650 satellites to be deployed to provide global Internet services.
SpaceX’s Starlink was a major competitor and there are other companies, such as Telesat, that are planning LEO constellations. With 74 of the roughly 700 satellites planned in orbit, OneWeb has successfully demonstrated its broadband capability; however, the 74 birds are not enough to offer telecom services.
OneWeb might entice a buyer with its active satellites and infrastructure, but in these uncertain days, it will likely be some time before one is found.