May 30, 2023

European Commission approves merger of two satellite-based telecom services providers

On May 25, 2023, the European Commission unconditionally approved the proposed acquisition of UK-based Inmarsat by US-based Viasat.  Both companies provide “two-way” satellite-based communication services and broadband inflight connectivity (“IFC’) services to commercial airlines around the world.  The companies also provide satellite services to third-party satellite service providers and to customers in a variety of other industries, including the maritime, energy, government, and business aviation sectors.

In February 2023, the Commission launched an investigation into the merger, in accordance with Article 1 of the Merger Regulation, to determine i) whether it would reduce competition for the provision of IFC services to commercial airlines in the European Economic Area (“EEA”) and globally; and ii) if there were an adequate number of operators with non-geostationary earth orbit satellites entering or planning to enter the IFC market that could successfully compete with the newly merged entity.  The Commission approved the merger after investigators concluded that the parties’ market position would remain moderate after the merger.  Investigators also determined that the IFC services market for commercial airlines would be largely unaffected in the EEA because the market is growing, and will likely include a enough new and existing competitors to apply sufficient pressure on the merged entity.

In October 2022, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) had similar concerns with the Viasat-Inmarsat acquisition, and launched an investigation into whether the merger would substantially lessen competition in the UK for IFC services to commercial airlines.  Viasat and Inmarsat both announced, in March 2023, that the CMA had provisionally cleared the deal after UK investigators finding that the merger would not lessen competition in the UK, in light of strong evidence that the global satellite communications market is highly competitive, with many well-established existing firms and well-funded new providers to challenge the merged entity.

European Commission Press Release | European Commission Press Release (February 2023) | CMA Press Release (March 2023)| Inmarsat Press Release (March 2023) | Viasat Press Release (March 2023)