SoftBank said to be in talks to merge OneWeb with Intelsat

[PORTLAND] SoftBank Group Corp, the technology giant controlled by billionaire Masayoshi Son, is in talks to merge the satellite startup it's backing, OneWeb Ltd, with satellite provider Intelsat SA, according to people familiar with the matter.

A deal is conditioned on setting aside money to purchase Intelsat bonds from investors at a price higher than their trading prices last week, though that would still be below par value, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. A transaction would be valued at about US$18 billion, the people said.

Today's bond movement has made a deal less likely to occur because the offer price is now lower than where the bonds are trading, said the people. Intelsat's US$2 billion of 7.75 per cent notes due 2021 jumped more than 15 US cents to trade as high as 61 US cents on the US dollar Monday, the biggest jump since 2014, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting system of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The bonds were quoted below 20 US cents in July.

OneWeb is also in discussions with SES SA, Inmarsat Plc and Telesat Holdings Inc, the people said. Intelsat declined to comment, and OneWeb and the other companies didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Intelsat operates a combined satellite-terrestrial communications network that can deliver video and broadband services anywhere in the world. By combining, the companies could potentially save on network costs and expand the types of customers Intelsat has.

Intelsat and OneWeb have complementary radio-frequency licenses that they could use to better to provide internet access on airplanes, among other markets, said Andrew Spinola, an analyst at Wells Fargo & Co, in a research note.

The companies already are working with Gogo Inc on such a service, he said.

"Intelsat's a highly leveraged company," said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Steve Flynn.

"The capital structure was definitely under a lot of stress, so any transaction with capital infusion would likely be a positive."

OneWeb raised US$1.2 billion from Tokyo-based SoftBank and other investors in December. The funding was designed to help develop small, low Earth-orbiting satellites and pay for the construction of a facility in Florida that will churn out 15 of the devices a week, according to OneWeb, based at Exploration Park, Florida, an area near Kennedy Space Center.

Mr Son, the chief executive officer of SoftBank, has been on a tear of big investments, including the US$32 billion acquisition of chip designer ARM Holdings Plc and the creation of the US$100 billion Vision Fund with Saudi Arabia and other backers.

Tokyo-based SoftBank is also one of Japan's biggest wireless providers and controls Sprint Corp, the fourth-biggest wireless company in the US SoftBank rose less than one per cent to 8,450 yen (S$105.36) in Tokyo on Tuesday.

OneWeb is the latest creation of Greg Wyler, who has spent more than a decade trying to connect poorer, less-developed parts of the world to the internet. He hopes to launch a constellation of satellites that will extend the networks of mobile operators and internet service providers to serve new coverage areas at a lower cost.


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