Viasat proposed acquisition of rival Inmarsat will close imminently, the companies having received the green light from the European Commission.

Mary Lennighan

May 26, 2023

3 Min Read
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Viasat’s proposed acquisition of rival Inmarsat will close imminently, the companies having received the green light from the European Commission.

The go-ahead from Brussels, which came on Thursday, was the last major regulatory hurdle the companies needed to clear to get their tie-up over the line. It has been a long time coming… although we should be used to the speed at which the wheels of competition regulation turn by now.

US-based Viasat announced a US$7.3 billion cash, stock and debt deal to acquire Inmarsat of the UK as long ago as November 2021. The news sent the regulators into something of tailspin, concerned as they were about the impact of the tie-up on competition, and in-depth investigations ensued.

However, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it would approve the deal in March and duly did so earlier this month, followed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week, and now the European Commission.

“In-flight internet connectivity on commercial flights is set to become more and more common in Europe,” said Margrethe Vestager, EVP in charge of competition policy at the European Commission, reminding us which segment of the market was viewed as the most threatened by the merger. Inmarsat and Viasat both use their own GEO satellites to provide broadband in-flight connectivity services to commercial airlines in Europe and further afield, as well as other types of satellite service, of course.

“Our in-depth investigation has shown that Viasat’s plan to buy rival satellite operator Inmarsat will not have a negative impact on the competitive landscape for this service,” Vestager said. “Our extensive market investigation confirmed that sufficient choice among several credible providers will remain available for airlines to offer their passengers.”

As well as ascertaining that the merged entity will not have a dominant position in the in-flight broadband space, the Commission noted that there remains plenty of opportunity for current players to compete in the market and for new market entrants to spring up. As such, it okayed the deal without conditions, leaving the way clear for Viasat and Inmarsat to tie up the formalities.

The firms issued a joint, fairly perfunctory statement on receipt of the Commission’s approval.

“The two companies will now work to expedite completion of the transaction, which is expected to close by the end of this month,” they said.

With the end of the month less than a week away, we can safely say that this deal is essentially done.

But there are others out there still pending.

A couple of months ago SES confirmed that it is holding talks with Intelsat over a possible merger that industry sources have valued at US$10 billion or more, including debt. We were led to believe that an actual deal announcement could come within a matter of weeks, but date nothing has materialised. Meanwhile, Eutelsat and OneWeb agreed to merge last July and are still navigating the regulatory process.

The emergence of satellite as a credible and more affordable means of providing broadband services, as well as capacity for in-flight broadband and the usual connectivity options for governments, the maritime industry and so forth, means that more players – some with deeper pockets than others – are getting in on the act. LEO players like SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper are capturing headlines and are naturally keen to capture revenue share too, leaving the smaller and/or more established satellite companies looking to bulk up.

The Viasat/Inmarsat merger will not be the last, and doubtless the European Commission took that into account when giving it the thumbs up. Future regulatory decisions on satellite M&A may be tougher to make, if not immediately, in the not-too-distant future.


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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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