While the satellite industry is buzzing about the potential for Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and multi-orbit constellations to provide connectivity and service, regional operators have their own unique needs for service that don’t always align with newer constellations.
However, as end user needs continue to evolve, regional satellite operators who spoke at the Tuesday afternoon SATELLITE 2023 regional operator roundtable expressed their willingness to engage in new partnerships, while keeping an eye on emerging threats, including space congestion.
While much has been made about competition between regional operators and constellations, when Moderator Nathan de Ruiter, managing director of Euroconsult, Canada, asked speakers to highlight positive developments, they expressed plenty of praise for their satcom peers.
“I really think that some good news is coming from the constellation business,” said Miguel Angel Panduro, CEO of Hispasat. “Our people are looking for decent services in the market, and now people who know nothing about space are paying attention to that. There are investors and a good atmosphere for investing in the space, and this is good for everybody.”
Abdulhadi Alhassani, chief strategy officer of Arabsat, echoed that sentiment.
“Because of the constellations and the buzz … that celebrity factor made satellite a household name, and one of the biggest advantages of that is more people are looking at satellite as a connectivity solution, and over the past couple of years we’re looking at businesses and more customers coming to us,” he said. “In the old days … previously it was just talk to governments, operators, and niche service providers. But now we’re getting more and more use cases coming up. And that’s definitely a positive thing in the industry.”
However, speaker Amit Somani, CEO of ABS Global Limited, suggested there’s some downside.
“Regionally, we are perhaps seeing [certain regions] becoming less of a focus today,” said Somani. “It’s affecting us directly or indirectly. Generally speaking, on the macro level whether direct or indirect it’s affecting pricing for the GEO [Geostationary Orbit] operators.”
But Kyle Whitehill, CEO of Avanti Communications, said that some of the threats to business don’t always pan out.
“In 2003, I worked for Vodafone … mobile operators in the U.K. and Cisco were going around telling everybody that voice over IP was going to destroy the mobile market,” said Whitehill. “But disruption happens very slowly in telecom. I think the good thing is with the introduction of LEOs is it’s made us way more conscious of our position, way more conscious of what we’re delivering to customers.”
Speakers discussed several trends in business that are emerging as they continue to try to provide high-quality, low-cost service. One big one is that expectations are changing, and more customers want shorter contracts, Somani said.
One reality is shorter contracts. Where a customer in the past may have signed a five-year contract, now they ask for year-by-year deals, Somani said. “The tenure of contracts is getting shorter because a lot of enterprises like maritime want the short-term options.”
Yet the executives did not say they are losing business due to LEO constellations — it’s the opposite.
“We haven’t lost any significant business to LEO constellations,” said Alhassani. “What we’ve seen is more business coming because of that. Currently the only mature constellation is established. Just to be frank about it, OneWeb certainly doesn’t come with the entire latitude around the equator.”
One of the more interesting points of the conversation turned to the topic of what regional investors bring to the table, or as moderator de Ruiter put it ,“What do you say when investors ask?”
According to Somani, “Once you are connected you want to be connected well,” and regional operators can offer a complementarity of coverage for land, maritime, and aerial partners.
Also, Alhassani said, regional operators have the best understanding of the markets, given their tenure.
“In many regions of the world, the cloud is not a selling point because of security issues, sovereignty issues,” he said.
Somani added: “Governments don’t want to rely on LEO constellations. When it comes to criticality and control, you can’t replace the GEO, it’s always there, right?”
But when the moderator asked if parties would be willing to partner with LEO if it were mutually beneficial, most seemed agreeable.
“My perspective has been that eventually telecom markets become homogenous around the network,” said Whitehill. “What customers want is a product to deliver some form of applications or customer data and they shouldn’t worry too much about which network we choose. So, 100 percent we’re super happy to partner with those guys because I think we have the credibility locally.” VS