Regulators in Liechtenstein have backed a deal by Galway businessman Declan Ganley’s Rivada Networks to take control of a company that owns a licence to launch a system of laser-connected space broadband satellites. The system could end up competing with Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper space satellite systems.
In March a consortium led by Rivada and some private investors took majority control of Liechtenstein company Trion Space, which owned the rights to the spectrum needed for the project. The licence was awarded by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency.
Mr Ganley’s company completed the deal using a German entity, Rivada Space Networks. It acquired 85 per cent of Trion, which was previously led by Liechtenstein investor Michael Frommelt. The other 15 per cent of Trion is owned by a German company, where Rivada has also bought a 47 per cent stake. The remaining 53 per cent of the minority shareholder is owned by Chinese investors, whose shares Rivada and its backers are now also attempting to redeem.
Subsequent to the deal, Trion Space submitted a new business plan to Liechtenstein’s Office For Communications, the local regulator. In a statement released this week, the regulator indicated that it was satisfied with the new structure and it gave its approval for a new frequency usage agreement between Trion and Rivada, effectively clearing the way for Mr Ganley and his backers to press ahead with their plan.
It had been reported locally that Trion was planning to invest up to €4 billion building the satellite system, which is expected to be rolled out between 2024 and 2028. However, Trion last year ran into difficulties with Liechtenstein’s regulator over issues including access to funding, amid local worries that the project ultimately could end up being financed by entities linked to Chinese government agencies.
The entire plan is now effectively under the control of Mr Ganley’s Rivada group, with official approval from the Liechtenstein authorities. Rivada has suggested that it will seek to bring in further equity and debt finance for the project as it progresses in coming years. The project involves launching a “constellation” of 600 interconnected low-earth orbit (Leo) satellites 1,000km above the earth, which it says would allow it to build a global broadband network with speeds “similar [to] or better” than normal fibre networks.
The network would be opened up on a wholesale basis for use by telecoms providers, cloud computing firms and potentially also governments for non-military use. It will use 4,000 megahertz of so-called Ka spectrum, comprising the previously unused ITU allocation for Liechtenstein. Ka spectrum is a high-speed band that has been used by other satellite systems, including Starlink.
Mr Ganley said this week the “afterburners are on” for the space project, following the approval of the Liechtenstein regulator. Rivada is hiring senior staff for the project and seeking companies to help it build the infrastructure.