‘It will be positive for the UK’: Boss of Government-backed satellite firm OneWeb defends its French merger
- Neil Masterson, chief executive of OneWeb, said the merger with Eutelsat would give it greater firepower to grow
- He played down fears China’s sovereign wealth fund, a minority investor in Eutelsat, will have a 1.8pc stake, saying it would have no influence or board seat
- It came after George Freeman, who quit as science minister, claimed the deal hands over pioneering technology to Britain’s European rivals on the cheap
Neil Masterson, chief executive of OneWeb
The boss of a Government-backed satellite firm has defended its merger with a French rival as ‘positive for the UK’ after a backlash led by a former science minister.
Neil Masterson, chief executive of OneWeb, which was rescued from bankruptcy by UK taxpayers, said the merger with Eutelsat would give it greater firepower to grow.
It came after George Freeman, who quit as science minister just three weeks ago, claimed the deal hands over pioneering technology long desired by Britain’s European rivals on the cheap.
OneWeb’s UK future is protected by a Government ‘golden share’, enabling it to veto any move away and block sales on national security grounds. Taxpayers will have a seat on the board of the parent firm, based in Paris and listed on the French stock market, with a secondary listing in London.
Masterson argues that the two are stronger together. He said customers were ‘extremely positive’ about a deal, which brings together its lower earth orbit (LEO) technology with Eutelsat’s older geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites, saying it was important to build up scale to compete in a sector where rivals include Elon Musk’s Starlink.
The deal creates the only ‘LEO-GEO combination’ company in the world, he added. ‘In the last 20 months, this company emerged from bankruptcy, almost on life support, and we’ve now grown to be a pretty vigorous-sized business.’
The company has 520 staff, two-thirds of them in the UK, where it is run from London. LEO satellite technology of the kind pioneered by OneWeb aims to allow access to high-speed internet where the ground infrastructure is hard to reach.
Applications include broadband on planes and in remote locations. Eutelsat’s GEO satellites, above a point on the Earth’s surface, have been used for decades in applications such as weather forecasting or television.
‘To have all that expertise and be one of only two LEOs here in White City, underpinned by the strength of Eutelsat and the global scale, I think is very positive for the UK and particularly for the UK space industry,’ Masterson said.
‘This is a merger of equals. The business prospects are much stronger together than they are individually. Each of the shareholders who stay in will have an investment in a much larger, more successful entity.’
He played down fears China’s sovereign wealth fund, a minority investor in Eutelsat, will have a 1.8pc stake, saying it would have no influence or board seat.