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MSUA Member Interview | Kim Billie Gram of Cobham SATCOM; Denmark

Catherine: Cobham has been a long-time member of MSUA and Kim it has been great to have you join us this year as a new member of the MSUA Board. Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective on mobility issues from the maritime field.

For starters, tell me about your role at Cobham and your background in the satellite and maritime industries.

Kim: In my job as VP New Business Development at Cobham SATCOM, I have the responsibility for exploring future opportunities for Cobham and ultimately facilitate the down select of business programs for execution, which will then practically speaking shape the future of the company. This process obviously ties into a series of processes such as the strategy definition process and business portfolio management.

Catherine: As MSUA’s mission is to promote mobility innovation and mobility market development, what do you believe to be the most significant drivers in each area for users in the maritime market?

Kim: One important aspect to keep in mind is the fact that the maritime market is extremely diverse. We always have an appetite to look at large trends and adapt our business accordingly. The reality is that an extraordinary large number of ship-owners with very different communication aspirations own the global merchant fleet. Fishery boats ranges from large trawlers to small fishing boats all bound by evolving regulations on catch reporting.

In that sense, it is very difficult to identify one significant driver except if, we are allowed to call diversity and complexity a driver. We need to offer the maritime community a very adaptable set of technologies, which at the same point does not exhaust our ability to effectively develop and deploy them. In other words, we need to be smart.

Catherine: From a mariners perspective, what frequencies are most relevant and do you see movement occurring where users (operational and commercial) are opting to move from one frequency to another? Or do they want the flexibility to access multiple frequencies?

Kim: They want full flexibility, if not today then tomorrow. Although more complex, I believe you can compare it to your own situation, when you do your job. You subconsciously or automatically make dynamic, frequency and technology decision when you move from G3/G4 to WIFI with your PC or handheld device. Going back to my previous point on complexity you can add dynamics over time. An owner of a particular type of vessel, such as a midsize fishing vessel, could at this moment in time, rely on his L-band terminal only, for the transmission of catch report data to his onshore operations and regulatory data submission. In two years’ time, he could decide to go full scale and add a higher bandwidth satcom data terminal to his network as well as intelligent switching between the satcom devices and cellular networks. I am back to my point from before, on the required versatility on our offering to the market.

Catherine: What about these new hybrid systems combining LTE, WiFi and Satcom. Do you think there’s any risk of SATCOM becoming irrelevant?

Kim: SATCOM will not become irrelevant. The combination of WIFI (port WIFI) LTE and SATCOM is already a reality. The question is how smart the communication management systems of the ship “roam” between the systems and also which players in the industry should offer such services. Many of course does that already today.

Catherine: In addition to different frequencies, there are different GEO, MEO and LEO constellations. What does this range of capability mean to the maritime community and how do you explain to users, the mix of choices?

Kim: We are in a privileged situation, where we are seeing significant investments into the satellite communication industry. This is great, however it does not make anything simpler. It remains a challenge to explain the implications fully to the user communities. Among constellation and network owners, there are obviously strong debates about the relevance of the different technologies and design principles. I believe, it will take some years for the market to settle into a situation, where pros and cons, choices and recommendations become more obvious. Despite this confusion, it should be emphasized that competition is dramatically increasing and this will benefit the users no doubt.

Catherine: Additionally, these systems have either open or closed architectures and some are considered evolving while others are non-evolving. How are players in the value chain choosing to align with one approach over another?

Kim: While this is a bit outside my domain, we would need to read the minds of the big airlines or shipping companies. To choose between superior closed architectures and less powerful open architectures, will remain a dilemma for the decision makers.

Catherine: How critical is terminal interoperability and what form do you believe is most relevant?

Kim: When you say terminal interoperability, I believe you mean the ability of the terminal to associate itself with multiple services and satellite constellations. To cut it short, full interoperability would, obviously just from a pure bargaining power perspective be a significant advantage for those who procure the services. It will become critical.

Catherine: What does the future hold for flat-panel antennas?

Kim: Unlike the other markets, for the maritime industry it is still unclear, how flat panels will operate on a ship due to the pith and roll of the vessel. Undoubtedly, flat panels in the form we expect it to be, will have a major impact on the broader SATCOM industry.

Catherine: How has connectivity advanced shipboard automation and how do you see this further evolving?

Kim: To be honest I believe we are sitting just in front of a wave. Due to my broader role in Cobham SATCOM across all verticals, my up to the minute insight to where we are on automation remains general. While it technically has been possible for the land operation to be hooked up to the on –ship systems, there is a cultural divide, due to the Captains traditionally sole right to run his ship without outside influence. I believe the positions are softening and we are just in front of a shore side visibility of the onboard automation systems.

Catherine: Last question – you’re from the Nordic region of Europe, what’s you personal favorite form of recreational mobility?

Kim: If you mean what devices I would bring along to sea (where I spend significant recreational time), it is a VHF radio a 3G/4G telephone and a mobile satcom device.

Catherine: Thank you Kim and how can readers reach you if they want to learn more about Cobham or follow you on social media?

Kim: I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn for starters. Otherwise you are always welcome to call. Still works.

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