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New Member Interview | Gregory Darling, Managing Director, AST

New Member Interview | Gregory Darling, Managing Director, AST

28 October 2016

On behalf of MSUA I am pleased to welcome AST as the newest corporate member of the association. The following exchange with Gregory Darling, managing director of AST, provides insights into AST’s mobility business and their perspective on mobility market development. This interview kicks off our new member interview series and I’m sure members of the MSUA community will benefit from gathering further insights about AST.

Catherine: Applied Satellite Technology (AST) is a well-known company to the MSS community but less so to FSS players. Please give a brief description and history of your business.

Gregory: AST traces its roots back to the early days of mobile satellite communications and we’re delighted to be celebrating our 25th anniversary next year. Like most entrepreneurial businesses, AST was born out of frustration with (the then) existing services and a desire to make it simpler for everyday users to communicate when in remote places. We started in equipment and airtime distribution then added servicing, support and latterly solutions and a whole host of value-added services. We also sell FSS services alongside our MSS offerings too, both directly to end users and indirectly through channel. AST is proud to deliver MSS services from all the major network operators.

In recent years, we’ve made considerable investment in Integra, our ground network, to provide the end-to-end quality of service expected of a trusted, tier one global provider. In building this more recently, we’ve been able to take advantage of today’s advanced technology to effectively bypass our industry peers. And next year we’ll continue this evolution with the addition of new value-added solutions unmatched in the market today, derived from our considerable experience in the application of satellite technology – the very core of our company name.

Catherine: What’s your perspective on the convergence of MSS and FSS?

Gregory: Customers who use satellite to communicate simply want reliable, secure connectivity wherever they happen to be, that’s high speed, easy to use and affordable. The blending of different technologies – for example Ka and Ku; Ka and C; Ka/Ku and L – to provide a single customer service is becoming more prevalent, but this is not something that’s unique to the satellite world. The cellular industry, faced with the onslaught of ever-rising data traffic, is forced to make more efficient use of spectrum that operates across multiple bands using multiple technologies in a heterogeneous network or “HetNet” deployment and uses the best available access technology to deliver the service. The user shouldn’t need to care how it’s provided – the user experience should be seamless. So we see the developments in the satellite industry effectively mirroring this trend.

Catherine: Which market segments is AST’s business rooted in and where do you see incremental growth?

Gregory: The maritime sector remains a core market for us today and we’re also active in the Government, NGO, oil and gas, utilities and media sectors. At AST, we see value-added solutions (ours included) as the way to penetrate these traditional sectors more deeply and this is the opportunity we’re now targeting.

Catherine: What do you think will drive future growth in your target markets — expanded connectivity, new applications, pricing, etc.?

Gregory: It’s all about data. The addiction to constant connectivity has been created in the terrestrial market. We expect access to high-speed broadband wherever we go. This is spilling over into satellite, but controlling the connectivity pipe and helping customers make more efficient use of their satellite bandwidth is now even more crucial.

The next frontier is IoT. As form factors get smaller, this plays well to the MSS market particularly where bandwidth requirements are low and traffic less bursty. This is an important area of growth for AST and we’ve create our own IRIS solution to target this market.

Similarly, smaller VSAT antennas are expanding the maritime use cases. We’re putting 60cm antennas on vessels that would not have had VSATs in the past.

Catherine: What do you think you could learn from the FSS business and what could FSS players learn from the MSS business?

Gregory: We prefer to look to the terrestrial market as a future indicator of what’s likely to be needed in satellite communications, but necessarily adapted for the unique challenges of our satellite environment in terms of global coverage, network resilience in extreme circumstances, usability and cost of delivery.

The adoption of new cellular services is more advanced because network technology and product life cycles are much faster. Looking back over the last decade, the obvious lesson is that when the whole ecosystem comes together (some call it the perfect storm) – network ubiquity and performance, devices, applications, usability and affordability – then demand explodes, both at the individual level and in the enterprise to leverage data in new ways.

We believe that the ecosystem is coming together in the satellite market too – AST is bringing key elements to it which are essential to fuel similar growth in our markets. This has been, and will continue to drive our innovation investment strategy.

Catherine: Thank you Gregory and I appreciate learning more about AST and fully agree with you about the relevance of the telecom market to mobility market development. Telecom is a priority target for Adjacent Market News – a component of MSUA’s weekly Mobility News distribution – and one MSUA intends on prioritizing for 2017. Thank you and we look forward to collaborating with you at upcoming events such as the SATELLITE2017 Mobility Forum and Annual Mobility Innovation Awards Program.

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