2015 Via Satellite Excellence Awards Highlights

One of the highlights of the recent SATELLITE 2016 Conference & Exhibition in Washington, D.C. was the third annual Via Satellite Excellence Award Winners Breakfast where Via Satellite once again had the tough choice of picking winners in some fiercely contested categories. In the aftermath, we spoke to a number of the winners and gained their thoughts after winning some of these prestigious awards.

Operator of the Year: O3b Networks

There is little doubt that O3b had an incredible year in 2015 signing well over 30 deals and cementing itself as one of the fastest growing operators around. It was the company’s first year of operation, and it set a formidable pace. Steve Collar, CEO at O3b, revealed that the company is on track to double its revenues in 2016, as its pace of growth shows no sign of slowing down.

“We have more than 26 Gbps under contract and we are leaders in both the Pacific and the maritime sector in terms of contracted capacity. We have established a great platform for growth and I am tremendously excited about the year ahead,” he says.

One of the big challenges for O3b this year will be to make more of an impact in the government sector, a key target for the company. O3b has already signed its first major government customer, a significant distributed network across Africa providing reach back and support for logistics and operations at numerous field bases.

“The high performance of the O3b system was a significant differentiator, enabling our customer to support operationally critical and latency sensitive applications such as ERP and logistics planning. We will help them drive out cost by simplifying operations and enabling the cloud. Full turnkey deployment is going well and will be completed by mid-year. It is super exciting and I know we are going to make a huge difference. We have a number of other projects in the works so watch this space,” Collar adds.

Collar admits he came away from SATELLITE 2016 feeling energized and predicts another strong year ahead. “It is a dynamic industry at the moment, not something it has always been possible to say, and we are proud to have played our part in the disruption that we are seeing. That said, I think there are some warning signs. Revenues for the major operators are under pressure despite new capacity coming on line and there is a lot of money being spent on projects and systems that can’t all succeed. I believe that we will see some shaking out over the next couple of years,” he says.

Woman in Technology: Peggy Rowe, VP of Software and Cyber Solutions at DataPath

Following in the footsteps of the likes of Amiee Chan of Norsat, the winner of this award was Peggy Rowe, DataPath’s vice president of software and cyber solutions. In terms of recent career highlights, Rowe points to DataPath’s re-emergence as a private company in 2014. She was part of the team that helped rebuild and revitalize DataPath’s position in the satellite industry after its divesture, a process she describes as “very rewarding.” “I consider contributing to that joint success to be a highlight of my career,” she adds.

As a winner of this Award, Rowe is now a role model for others in the industry. When asked what advice she would give to young women in the industry, Rowe says she would encourage them to be “adventurous, explore options, and learn different roles, even if at first glance they think they might not be interested.” She believes it always helps to try new tasks or responsibilities. “When a job is a match, you will know it, and experiencing that kind of passion makes every day work pleasurable. Once you find the work that becomes your passion, then work doesn’t feel like work,” she adds.

Rowe has a daughter in college, and she admits she sees a change in her generation as much more likely to embrace diversity. “They have a greater appreciation for different opinions, approaches and styles, and seem to have a healthy recognition of how considering diverse perspectives contributes to a greater overall outcome,” Rowe adds.

Rowe, given her role in cybersecurity, is likely to continue to be one of the most high profile women in the industry. In terms of the challenges she faces this year, she says, “The primary challenge ahead for DataPath’s software and cyber business is to become better known as the chosen software and cybersecurity partner to the satellite industry. For me, the key takeaway of SATELLITE 2016 was that concern about cybersecurity is becoming more and more prevalent. Industry-wide, everyone is starting to think about security at a minimum on an internal level, as well as starting to think about building security into the overall architecture, the overall design of solutions provided.”

Humanitarian Company of the Year: Jaime Dickinson, president of NewCom International

NewCom has been involved in philanthropic work since its inception, and is continuing to perform humanitarian work now as part of SpeedCast. The company has provided support to far-reaching social causes ranging from telemedicine in Western Africa to aiding the Red Cross in Guantanamo Bay. Much of the company’s efforts are focused in Latin America, a place close to the hearts of many NewCom employees.

“We were thrilled to be recognized by Via Satellite for our humanitarian efforts because advancing education, healthcare, public Internet access and economic growth through satellite connectivity has been at the core of our business philosophy since NewCom was founded in 2004. Most of us at NewCom are originally from Latin America and we have seen firsthand the needs in these developing regions, so it’s very personal for us,” said Dickinson.

NewCom communications not only improve the quality of life in rural, impoverished areas, but even save lives. Last year the company partnered with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called Kidnected World, which used satellite connectivity from NewCom to send out an emergency call for blankets and food when a massive winter storm hit in Peru.

Dickinson said NewCom is teaming with Comnet, the largest VSAT provider in Guatemala, to provide satellite-based connectivity and high-speed Internet services to 117 schools, medical clinics and community centers throughout the country. In Panama, NewCom is bridging the divide with Digicel, and in Colombia, is working in partnership with the Ministry of Education to provide Internet access, educational content, and 24/7 support to 72 schools located in remote areas throughout the country. And that’s just a fraction of the projects the company is involved in today.

In December 2015, NewCom became part of SpeedCast by way of acquisition. Dickinson highlights the larger scale and global reach with SpeedCast, such as 30 teleport locations and 27 international sales and support offices, as ways the combined company can now do even more to aid people in need by satellite.

“Like NewCom, SpeedCast has a strong humanitarian focus and is committed to using satellite technology to make the world a better place. NewCom will continue to leverage the latest advances in satellite technology to advance education, health care, public Internet access and economic growth in developing regions,” he says. “As part of SpeedCast, we now have the ability to do so much more.”

Rising Engineer: Simone Paulotto, VP of R&D at Maxtena

With more than 90 scientific papers and five book chapters already published, Simone Paulotto has accomplished a lot as a young engineer. Rising to become VP of Research and Development (R&D) at Maxtena in only four years, he designed the LTE antennas for Google Pixel and played an integral role in designing a low cost phased array antenna that became the reference technology for Iridium Next.

Paulotto says his late grandfather served as an example for him to be diligent in his work.

“My first thought went to my grandfather,” says Paulotto, reflecting on the award. “I wish he were still alive to congratulate me. He was passionate about science and always interested in learning about innovation. He was an example for me: a man of ideals who did fight for freedom in World War II and who survived two years in Dachau concentration camp before being rescued by the U.S. Army.”

Paulotto has been a force multiplier within the satellite industry, guiding antenna technology to meet the ever more complex demands of mobile connectivity. He says the ability to ensure connectivity — and greater amounts of it — to mobile platforms with satellites that are also moving is a challenge the industry needs to tackle head on.

“The current state-of-the-art user terminals are still relying on mechanically steered or fixed solutions. These solutions either exhibit poor efficiency or are cost prohibitive. Within Maxtena we are working on a low cost, high performing electronically steerable phased arrays family able to address all the most demanding requirements in satellite telecommunications,” he says.

Paulotto finds the Internet of Things (IoT) to be the most exciting development in the satellite industry today. He expects the proliferation of connected devices to spur on a wide range of consumer-centric services. He also expects that the inherently “always-on” nature of IoT will make satellite a necessity.

“The basic requirements of the IoT are that all devices need to be connected wherever they happen to be. While Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and terrestrial GSM networks are able to support most applications, these network services cannot provide the ubiquitous and seamless coverage of satellites,” he says.

Today Paulotto is working on developing new Maxtena products based on Dynamic Aperture Technology (DAT), an advanced platform designed for building a new generation of lower cost, higher throughput user terminals with stronger link integrity and lower power consumption for aerial, maritime, and land mobile communications. He says in the future he would like to help inspire students to strive for excellence, while continuing his work in R&D.

“I am still in contact with the academic world, and I would like the satellite industry to be more exciting for the students,” he says.

Technology Company of the Year: VeriSat

In the first two years of this Award, probably the most fiercely contested of our Excellence Awards was won by iDirect and then Advantech Wireless. The winner of the 2015 Technology Company of the Year award could be construed as a bit of a surprise with newcomer VeriSat scooping it having made a huge impact in the area of satellite interference, one of the ongoing battles that the industry faces year over year. Its SatGuard product is impressive and the company is definitely one to watch over the next few years.

Petter Amundsen, CEO at VeriSat, told Via Satellite that he sees the award as a recognition of the importance of how its patent-pending solution enables the satellite industry to finally solve what has been a very time-consuming challenge for many years, both with respect to identifying the terminals causing interference, but also with respect to enabling geolocation of VSAT.

“2016 looks very promising, with more satellite operators seeing the benefits of SatGuard. As we have recently expanded SatGuard capabilities to support a wider range of VSAT technologies, we expect the uptake pace to increase significantly. So while 2015 was the year of the technology breakthrough, we expect 2016 to be the year of commercial breakthrough for SatGuard,” Amundsen says.

Amundsen expands on the potential capabilities for SatGuard going forward. “I expect we will expand the use of the SatGuard technology from the current focus as a troubleshooting tool, to being applied in everyday monitoring and as a preventive and monitoring interference management tool. Concerning growth, we believe increasing uptake of SatGuard and enhancing the solution to become an everyday monitoring tool and not just a troubleshooting tool will keep us busy for the foreseeable future,” he says.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Richard Hadsall, CIO at EMC Communications

Richard Hadsall, CIO of EMC Communications, deservedly won our lifetime achievement award. When looking to pinpoint some highlights on his varied career so far, Hadsall pointed to working on the creation of the first international licensed C-band and Ku-band transportable earth stations back in the early 1980s. Hadsall travelled with President Reagan’s administration, providing Pentagon and network press pool coverage of summits around the world. He also highlights working on the creation of the first stabilized antenna system for the U.S. Navy at the request of then Secretary of Defense Casper Wineberger in April 1986, which at that time was a classified venture, until it was declassified in May 1988.

While Hadsall won an award for his past achievements, he is certainly not resting on his laurels and has a busy year ahead at EMC. “My major challenge for the rest of 2016 is seeing through the delivery of specialized services which are being developed. These will fall into a few categories: aviation antennas and systems, government services, and the demand for higher bandwidth and the ability to utilize a common system in various verticals (Land/Sea/Air) and the ever-changing delivery platforms. Which one will provide the best spectrum efficiencies?” he says.

In terms of advice he would give to young engineers starting out, he says it is important to have a good grasp on the telecommunications industry, so not just the satellite market but also the wireless broadband market as they are both intertwined at one point or another.

“They need to like the business they are entering and enjoy the process of creating new applications associated with the business vertical that they are entering. Today it is much harder for the new engineers to step into the business and become a success as the industry has grown so much there are few new places for new engineers to actually enter and still be allowed to just experiment with new ideas that may change the way we deliver services today,” he adds.

Vertical Impact Award: Advantech Wireless

Advantech Wireless’ Gallium Nitride (GaN) High Power Amplifiers (HPAs) were originally produced for the commercial market, but it was not long before government customers started asking for them as well. Based on compound semiconductor devices, the company’s HPAs boost linearity and overall link performance while reducing Size, Weight and Power (SWaP), doubling Radio Frequency (RF) power in the same physical footprint. David Gelerman, president and CEO of Advantech Wireless says that military customers — both prime contractors and end users — approached the company to apply these SWaP benefits to their applications. He says the award recognizes not only the work of Advantech employees, but also those customers who helped leverage commercial technology for government purposes.

In designing products for the military market, the success of which led to this award, Advantech Wireless found that military customers place a much greater priority on the tradeoffs between weight and performance. Also, mission duration can vary a lot from commercial business demands.

“A commercial user will generally want a system to run continuously for years without a single interruption. In power amplifier design this means that they are typically willing to accept a heavier product, with more ability to dissipate heat (heat is the enemy of long term reliability). A tactical application may have a mission profile or concept of operation that requires a short lived burst of activity and needs to be highly mobile,” explains Gelerman. Advantech’s manpack provides up to a 2 Mbps link with a 60cm antenna, supporting a multi-waveform modem and ultra-lightweight high power Block UpConverter (BUC) to do the job. The company must balance the need for a powerful amplifier with high data rates on a small aperture that still stands up to reliability and availability requirements — all while staying lightweight enough for a person to carry. “Tactical applications require a different balancing of the tradeoffs between SWaP and performance, while still assuring that the system will work and be available when needed. These are some of the most interesting and rewarding products for our engineers to work on,” he says.

Advantech has had an unquestionable impact on the military vertical, making the company the clear winner of this award. The military market has been tough in recent years, as companies often learned they would have to adapt to declining budgets rather than hope to wait it out. Gelerman says Advantech has held on to the military market by honing in on reliability as being of the utmost importance.

“In the satellite networking products, the hub equipment Advantech deployed in various teleports for the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has an operational availability of over 99.999 percent over a 10 year time period. With the introduction of the GaN technology, huge improvements were made in the reliability of amplifier products. Both these achievements have been recognized by our customers and led to our success. We actually grew our business in the slow satellite military/government market,” he explains.

Advantech continues to invest in future products for the military market, among others. Gelerman says the company is keen to support the High Throughput Satellite (HTS) capabilities of the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) system as newer satellites in the fleet drive up its capabilities.

Integrated Marketing Campaign of the Year: iDirect

When iDirect set out to create its Maritime Leadership Campaign, the company had more in mind than just selling its products; iDirect wanted to educate an industry about the merits of satellite. Maritime is an active market today, and one poised for greater connectivity needs in the future. At the same time, satellite technology has also become more capable. iDirect was able to tie these two trends together in a compelling marketing program that ultimately won our Excellence Award for Integrated Marketing Campaign of the Year.

Admittedly, iDirect did include Via Satellite as part of its Maritime Leadership Campaign, but that was far from all the company did. iDirect’s digital feature in the September 2015 issue of Via Satellite was more of a flash point for something even larger.

“What came next was a multi-communications channel effort deigned to ignite the message throughout the satellite community. Leveraging print and online media, digital publishing, social media and email, we were able to deliver the message across multiple fronts and create an industry dialogue that uncovered great insights and thought leadership,” says Julie Bettinger, VP of corporate marketing at iDirect.

The iDirect Maritime Leadership Campaign included interviews with nine satellite operators and service provider partners, eight of which rank among the top 10 largest maritime VSAT service providers by revenue, according to Comsys. The campaign leveraged extensive research from Comsys, as well as NSR to drive home ways satellite could benefit the maritime sector.

“We were able to bring together a broad collective voice of influential satellite operators and service providers to define the value propositions that impacts each segment within maritime. Our campaign was the linchpin to fostering education across this growing market segment,” says Bettinger.

iDirect’s campaign had such an impact that the company extended it into a-four part blog series that ran from Sept. 22 through Nov. 3, 2015, along with an e-brochure, co-branded partner profiles and partner quote images, and an email campaign. This year, iDirect used content from the marketing campaign in its broader #MySatelliteEvolution campaign, sharing partner journeys on iDirect’s Evolution product line as well as iDirect’s own journey and future growth plans

Bettinger says the maritime market is in the midst of a significant time of transformation. She cites maritime-specific trends, such as certain connected applications, smart vessel and more, which are leading satellite operators and service providers across the board to rethink offerings, infrastructure and overall business plans. VSAT, she says, has a big part to play in this future.

“Today, we have arrived at a point where VSAT technology is growing in value and undergoing significant innovation, making it easier and more affordable to deploy across all segments of the maritime industry. What is driving this growth is the fact that VSAT has fundamentally shifted from a cost center to a cost saver, driven by different factors based on segment,” she says.

Social Media Campaign of the Year: Arabsat

Arabsat has long been a standard bearer for satellite communications in the Middle East. Khalid Balkheyour, Arabsat’s president and CEO, was a recent winner of our Satellite Executive of the Year Award. The company’s social media campaigns last year centered on a lead generation campaign around its BADR 7 satellite, which was launched late last year. Arabsat spent $7,500 on the campaign, which involved a variety of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for example.

The company achieved some impressive results around its social media campaign, which helped generate more than 200 potential leads, well ahead of its internal forecasts, which hoped for half of that. It forecasted impressions of 1 to 2 million, but ended up going up over the 3 million mark. Its video coverage of the BADR 7 launch achieved almost 180,000 views through its Facebook channel. The campaign achieved more than 7,000 likes on Facebook.

Badih Kaanan, head of marketing and communications at Arabsat, outlined some of the operator’s plans for 2016, focusing mainly on lead generation. “Our planning will remain the same: promote the right message to the right target audience and gather leads. We recently launched our new website and we will do different campaigns to promote our product/business and specific campaigns related to specific events and offerings; and of course an ongoing campaign related to brand exposure and awareness, and to promote events and conferences that we participate at,” he says.

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