UK satellite firm Inmarsat agrees $7.3bn takeover by US rival Viasat

Show caption Technicians look at a solar panels on an Inmarsat satellite. Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters Inmarsat UK satellite firm Inmarsat agrees $7.3bn takeover by US rival Viasat Deal may be reviewed under National Security and Investment Act because nature of business Mark Sweney @marksweney Mon 8 Nov 2021 15.43 GMT Share on Facebook

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The British satellite communications company Inmarsat has agreed a $7.3bn (£5.4bn) takeover by the California-based Viasat, becoming the latest UK tech firm to be taken over by a foreign rival.

The deal is the latest in which a UK company that plays a key role in Britain’s economy and national security is to be taken over by foreign rivals or private equity firms. Inmarsat was listed on the London Stock Exchange before being taken private two years ago by a consortium including the private equity firm Apax.

Viasat, which described the deal as “transformative” for the global communications industry, said it intended to work with the government to continue to invest and grow Inmarsat’s presence in the UK.

“Viasat plans to preserve and grow Inmarsat’s London headquarters,” the US company said, announcing the deal. “Viasat plans to build on Inmarsat’s presence in the UK and is committed to preserving and growing the investment of the combined company in UK space communications.”

Inmarsat provides mobile satellite services that underpin email, internet and video conferencing, as well as in-flight wifi. It has 14 satellites in orbit and plans to launch another seven, and supplied satellite services to the Ministry of Defence to improve ground communications for troops fighting in Afghanistan. It provides commutations services for ships as well.

The company, whose technology was used in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in 2014, employs about 860 people at its base in Old Street and 1,800 worldwide.

Viasat, which in 2019 had Priti Patel on a £1,000-an-hour contract for five hours’ work a month as a strategic adviser until she was appointed home secretary, said that it would “cooperatively engage” with the UK government to continue to operate in the country following the same commitments made by the private equity consortium that took over Inmarsat two years ago.

“Together, we can advance broadband communications and create new hybrid space and terrestrial networks that drive greater performance, coverage, speed, reliability and value for customers,” said Mark Dankberg, Viasat’s executive chair.

Given the nature of Inmarsat’s business the deal may be reviewed under the National Security and Investment Act 2021, legislation brought in to protect key national assets from foreign takeover.

The government said it would continue to “closely monitor” the deal, which will be subject to regulatory scrutiny in a number of markets including the UK.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The business secretary has powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 to intervene in acquisitions which raise public interest concerns. The government recently strengthened those powers through the National Security and Investment Act, which commences on 4 January 2022.”

In July, the government launched a review of the takeover of the Welsh microchip manufacturer Newport Wafer Fab by Nexperia, the Chinese-owned company that acquired the UK’s largest producer of semiconductors.

In April, the government ordered an investigation into Nvidia’s takeover of the Cambridge-based chip designer Arm, citing potential national security concerns. Four months later, the Competition and Markets Authority launched an in-depth investigation into the deal after finding it raised serious competition concerns.

“Joining with Viasat is the right combination for Inmarsat at the right time,” said Rajeev Suri, the chief executive of Inmarsat. “The industrial logic is compelling and ensures that the UK has a strong and sustainable presence in the critical space sector for the long term.”

Viasat, which has a UK base at Farnborough and supplies services and products to the MoD, said it expected the combined company to be able to make cost savings of $190m a year but did not comment on potential job cuts.

“Decisions regarding management of the combined company following the closing of the transaction will be made as part of the integration planning process,” it said.

Inmarsat was set up in 1979 by the International Maritime Organization, the UN’s maritime body, as an international governmental organisation to enable ships to communicate with shore and to call for help in emergencies. It was privatised in 1999 and floated on the LSE in 2005.

The company has struggled in recent years, however, and faces increasing competition from rivals including Elon Musk’s SpaceX. In July 2020 the government bought a £400m stake in the satellite operator OneWeb in a post-Brexit effort to rival the European Union’s Galileo system.