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Member Interview | Samer Halawi, CEO, Thuraya

Member Interview | Samer Halawi, CEO, Thuraya

5 December 2016

Catherine: Thuraya is an early leader in the satellite mobility market and there’s been a lot of recent press about your plans for taking the business forward. Before we get into the details about your news, let’s talk about Thuraya’s start in the mobility market.

Samer: Thank you, Catherine. It’s helpful to set the scene, while we prepare ourselves for the next chapter in the Thuraya story with our next generation capability plans.

Thuraya is a leading MSS operator and a global telecommunication provider. We deliver data and voice connectivity across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe – 161 countries and two thirds of the globe. The sectors we serve include maritime, government, energy and broadcast media, alongside humanitarian NGOs. Our network covers two thirds of the globe by satellite, while our unique GSM roaming capabilities (and we have roaming agreements with 371 terrestrial operators in 175 countries) give us global coverage.

Thuraya’s story can be divided into three phases, if we include moving forward with FUTURA, our next generation capability plans, as the third of these. We began in 1997, as the first MSS operator in the Middle East, founded by regional telecommunications operators aiming at complementing terrestrial coverage. We operate from our head office in Dubai and our Primary Gateway technical facilities in Sharjah, and we have another office in Singapore. We are set to add another office at the start of 2017, in Washington D.C.

Our two current satellites were launched in 2003 and 2008, by which time we had already established our reputation for top quality, innovative handsets.

The second phase of the company’s history began in 2011, which was also the year I joined as CEO. We introduced an innovative product pipeline; established a government service business that has already resonated well in North America and Europe; and revamped both the distribution network and the sales force.

Thuraya has consequently grown faster than the MSS market. In fact, we outstripped the industry with CAGR rates of 8% across 2011-2015, double the 4% rate of the industry.

Our emphasis on building momentum and delivering innovation has driven growth and differentiation. Thuraya’s portfolio includes the revolutionary Thuraya SatSleeve; the XT-LITE and XT-PRO; and the Orion and Atlas IP terminals, to name but a few. We have also just launched Thuraya XT-PRO DUAL, the world’s first dual mode, dual SIM satellite phone. This product embodies the concept of convergence, like no other.

This year we also entered the M2M market, establishing a presence in North America in partnership with ViaSat.

We are now set to build on what has been put in place since 2011. This next stage will take us beyond current resource limitations, delivering the next generation of satellite capability, which will be transformational.

Catherine: There’s a lot of innovation taking place in the mobility market. How do you see Thuraya fitting into the new services being offered to the market?

Samer: We are very much focused on our own roadmap – our FUTURA plans, which will expand the scope of the business, and the markets in which we can operate. Thuraya will take the lead in future satellite mobility innovation. We intend to deliver a blueprint for success, building a whole new business around our existing distribution platform, licenses, experience and strong user base.

Our roadmap will generate a comprehensive portfolio of L-band, High Throughput Services, Terrestrial, and New Wave Internet of Things services, creating an unrivalled one-stop shop. This will enable us to address new growth markets that need the mobility, capability and coverage that is only available through L-band or HTS services - or in many instances through a combination of both.

We have already shown a real understanding of the value of easy, convenient access to satellite connectivity for end users. As we expand and diversify on an unprecedented scale, Thuraya will become the provider of choice for unified connectivity. New generation L-band and complementary HTS form the basis from which to innovate, disrupt, and redefine. With new markets becoming accessible to us, new technological capabilities will deliver an unparalleled portfolio of mobile products, applications and services.

Catherine: As and MSS operator, what’s your perspective on the convergence of MSS and FSS?

Samer: Thuraya’s focus is on satellite and GSM convergence and we see four drivers for future growth: need, technology, products and business models.

Let’s look at those one at a time. In terms of need, there are many compelling reasons for ubiquitous constant connectivity. Vast water masses will always be inaccessible to terrestrial operators, and 100% GSM coverage is simply not economically feasible. M2M solutions require satellite technology given the need for ubiquitous coverage across borders; and that same satellite technology is needed to alleviate last mile bottlenecks. Furthermore, the rising number of man-made and natural disasters elevates the need for complementary solutions.

Then there’s technology. Convergence was once a matter of fixed and mobile within the terrestrial world. Thuraya goes beyond that, complementing terrestrial by operating a GSM-based satellite network. We give customers the same experience they get on terrestrial mobile, and we give them roaming. We offer full network convergence with GSM, which gives you uninterrupted connectivity. Our SIM cards and those of terrestrial operators are interchangeable, and work on each other’s networks.

That brings us to the third factor: the products themselves. This is where innovation is so powerful. We ensure our products are built with the customer’s needs in mind, and as such we are able to offer capabilities and a form factor that are unparalleled in the industry. In addition, there’s the BYOD concept for smartphones which we invented with the Thuraya SatSleeve, and recently improved with Thuraya SatSleeve+ and Thuraya SatSleeve Hotspot.

During our annual product development forum this November, an event during which we promote innovation and disruption with our partner community, we announced the launch of the world’s first dual mode, dual SIM satellite phone. The Thuraya XT-PRO DUAL is convergence in your hand. It completely bridges the gap between satellite and terrestrial communications, allowing users to move seamlessly in and out of terrestrial coverage to enjoy connectivity in any location. Moreover, it is packed with a number of innovative features such as tracking and geo-fencing, amongst others. So we have taken the next step in terms of what satellite phones can deliver.

Finally, it’s about the business model. For us, that we work with each of our business partners to create the best possible offering for their customers. Partnership and flexibility are key.

Catherine: Of all the drivers for future growth, what do you think is most imperative for your target markets?

Samer: There is considerable growth potential for MSS, with plenty of opportunities to address in the mobility market, and changing dynamics to consider. The need for communications is getting ever greater – both for people and for machines. Mobility itself has never been more important, and we are entering a new era of connectivity for ships, aircraft and human beings. Then there’s the explosive growth in solutions and apps. Sadly, both man-made and natural disasters are on the rise, too. Also, while the market may generate lower ARPUs, you will see far more devices, and an increasing consumer interest.

Catherine: What market segments is Thuraya looking towards for future business growth?

Samer: As we look ahead to the step change that FUTURA will bring, you will see an extensive flow of launches of new and innovative devices, terminals and modules, for enterprise, government and consumer markets. Enterprise land, consumer and government form the basis of our current approach. But FUTURA will triple the size of the addressable market, and this permits us to adopt a more expansive yet fully focused strategy.

Thuraya’s next generation system will focus on delivering high mobility services in core and new markets. These will be complemented with High Throughput Satellite (HTS) services for bandwidth-hungry applications in land, maritime and aeronautical markets. The constellation will be supported by highly advanced platforms for the provision of “new wave” IoT and content services, with multicasting and broadcasting capabilities.

This will enable Thuraya to address new growth markets requiring the mobility, capability and coverage that is uniquely available through L-band or HTS services, or in many instances through a combination of both. In short, we will develop an integrated offering of voice and data products to target carefully selected, high-growth sub-segments.

It’s exciting. We’re adopting the mentality and the energy – the sheer determination - of a startup, and adding that to the momentum and experience gained from the last 19 years. Crucially, we can offer service continuity while planning for future evolution, and that’s a vital message of reassurance to all our existing partners.

Catherine: Many thanks Samer for taking time to provide insights into Thuraya’s business and plans. We appreciate your longstanding membership with MSUA and look forward to learning more as your plans for FUTURA continue to evolve.

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