Boeing, a company known for bringing state of the art technology to the satellite sector, has been behind many landmark satellite deals. Via Satellite recently caught up with Boeing Satellite Systems International President Chris Johnson to preview SATELLITE 2019.
VIA SATELLITE: SATELLITE 2019 will be a melting point of Low Earth Orbit (LEO), and new satellites and launch vehicles. Do you believe we are at an inflection point for the industry?
Johnson: We live in an incredible time for the space ecosystem. There’s no question that the commercial advancement of core technologies, combined with a shift in our ability to monetize data, has evolved our understanding of the space economy. We’re immersed in the entrepreneurial space era unlike any time in history. At no point in recent memory have we experienced such a confluence of manufacturing capability, payload performance, low-cost access, early stage investment, regulatory progress, and non-traditional models. Each year is an inflection point among neighbouring inflection points. It’s an exciting time to be in the space business.
VIA SATELLITE: What do you think will be the main topics/trends discussed at this year’s SATELLITE?
Johnson: No shortage of fodder here. Certainly we’ll talk about an exponential increase in payload capabilities and the corresponding expansion of business models for operators. We’ll debate the viability of mega constellations. We’ll talk spectrum filings and conversions, the success of smaller rockets, satellite servicing, and “Old Space” reinventing itself with new teams, new acquisitions, and new products.
VIA SATELLITE: Are we now at a stage where the lack of Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellite orders are in permanent, terminal decline?
Johnson: The decline in new-to-GEO capacity has been as challenging as any market adjustment, but I would not classify the trend as terminal. Many GEO fleets are in need of replenishment, either with broadcast capabilities or hybrid data systems that can meet demands from both legacy and new users. We have to partner that much more closely with our customers to together be opportunistic in an otherwise challenging marketplace. In response, we’ve stepped up development of our flexible technology. But, it’s not about our technology. It’s about equipping our customers with the speed and agility required to instantiate new business models. Boeing is still very committed to GEO. We’re just as committed to our customers’ success in GEO, and in any orbit, as we have always been.
VIA SATELLITE: When looking at most of the major operators and their revenues, there are clearly struggles in terms of video. How would you assess the video market for satellite players now?
Johnson: More than 60 percent of large operator revenues remain tied to broadcast. While future growth may be in question, the core appears resilient and is likely to serve a valuable, foundational market role. That base will no doubt be augmented by broadband, mobility, enterprise and other verticals.
VIA SATELLITE: I am sure 5G will be a major topic of conversation for satellite players this year at the event. Do you see this as a market where satellite players could get marginalized or is it the next big growth opportunity for the sector?
Johnson: From latency, to spectrum, to coverage, there are some major questions to resolve. I believe communication satellites will remain a vital part of the 5G infrastructure.
VIA SATELLITE: Do you think a number of these LEO operators will be successful or are we returning to the boom and bust of the late 1990s?
Johnson: I do think we will see a successful LEO operator near term. The shift in complexity from space vehicles to ground assets appears more tenable than it did in the late 1990s, although CAPEX hurdles remain. Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) systems, like O3B mPower, and other LEO operators are bringing unique models to the table — models made viable by new technology. Toward that end, Boeing’s digital payloads are as much at home in LEO and MEO as they are in GEO. We’ve been running advanced network traffic simulations, in concert with our customers, to address the most challenging use cases. What we can do for connectivity in this domain is incredible, and even more compelling the harder the dynamics — i.e., a moving sender and multiple moving receivers. Ours is the kind of step-function technology that enables new business cases to thrive.
VIA SATELLITE: Is the industry entering an uncertain period right now?
Johnson: These are dynamic times. We focus on clarity over certainty. Clarity is achieved when we fully internalize a customer’s mission and collaboratively devise solutions to that end. I’m excited about what the future holds for space and satellite communications.
VIA SATELLITE: What do you hope to get out of SATELLITE 2019? What are you looking forward to next?
Johnson: SATELLITE is always a great opportunity to spend time with old friends, customers, partners, and industry colleagues. What I look forward to at the event is the opportunity to listen and learn about how to best serve our customers in this dynamic marketplace. Conference sessions, panels, meetings, and social events provide a great chance to engage in face-to-face exchanges ideal for learning and creating together. VS