Remember that song from the 1980’s – “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades?”. That’s what I took away from the Satellite conference last week. In this relatively young industry, developments move fast. Not building and launching satellites mind you – that literally takes years. And well it should because after all (say it with me) this actually IS rocket science.
I was honored to be invited to sit in on one of the MSS panels last week, offering my views on a number of issues from critical mileposts in this sector, to differing strategic approaches, to the friendly banter with my competitors, colleagues and partners. It also highlighted how I have led East Coast Satellite Communications down a slightly different path in the marketplace. My colleagues are all talking about products; ‘build it and they will come’. This is true – we need to respond to the requirements of the end users, but I believe in education. Teach the principles of the industry, the differences and nuances of the different systems. Educate the buyers and users and let them choose the solution that best suits their situation. People want to know the solution will solve the problem they are facing. Which band the system is running, or how it works is much less important than the fact that is actually DOES work. (Keeping in mind there is a certain level of user cooperation required!) This notion was reinforced in an FSS panel discussion talking about broadband coming into the mainstream, not just for emergency use. Who cares if it Ka or L or Ku band: can I send my data and make phone calls? That is all that matters. Also highlighted in that session is the chicken/egg phenomenon going on in VSAT: are the additional players coming into the market driving down prices, or are lower costs pulling them in? Or are we seeing a trend of slowing growth in one segment (MSS?) leading to those providers adding VSAT to boost revenues? It is an interesting quandary that I will leave to the philosophers even as I lean towards the latter.
Once again Iridium, Globalstar, Thuraya and Inmarsat staked their differing strategic claims, with Iridium and Thuraya re-affirming their commitment to their distributions channels, Globalstar looking to sell millions or tens of millions of low-cost devices in retail stores and Inmarsat talking about supporting their channel while buying their way down into the channel resulting in direct sales and competition with their channel. Competing with your channel is never a winning formula. They are a $5 Billion network, I am just the guy selling the stuff but how can I compete against my supplier?
There was significant buzz about the new BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) solutions, started by Thuraya last year with the award-winning SatSleeve. This year we will see Globalstar’s SAT-FI and Iridium’s GO! Wi-Fi devices that connect to your Smart phone, tablet, iPad (up to five devices!) that enable voice calls via an app that runs on the device. Very cool but will these devices cannibalize handset sales? TBD.
So between the proliferation of broadband for everyday communications, new devices and the call for education, Satellite 2014 proved to be an informational whirlwind – so much to track in order to stay on top of this industry.
I’m looking forward to seeing some of these strategies come to fruition over time, and of course what we will be discussing at Satellite next year.