Catherine: Hi Erwan, I appreciate you taking time for a Mobility News interview and the timing is ideal given recent articles in Space Intel Report and Space News about Speedcast’s plan to refinance.
Let’s talk about this refinance and the Harris CapRock and UltiSat acquisitions. What do these mean to you and your mission at Speedcast to develop the enterprise and other emerging markets?
Erwan: The Harris CapRock and UltiSat acquisitions really helped us diversify our strengths in multiple industries while improving our ability to invest in new technologies. We already have a presence in more than 40 countries and experience working in nearly every country in the world. These acquisitions will allow us to cement our role as the largest global provider for remote communications.
Now, we can scale our efforts and use our global infrastructure to develop leading solutions for enterprise customers and emerging markets wherever they need us. Our recent refinancing also supports these developments because it increases our operational and financial flexibility, allowing us to focus on growth in these additional markets without disrupting our progress in our three other major verticals: Maritime, Energy and Government.
Catherine: Have you prioritized segments to focus on within the enterprise and emerging markets?
Erwan: There are many sub-segments within enterprise and emerging markets in which we see opportunity for sure. With that being said, cellular backhaul, humanitarian/NGO, and media and broadcast will be the key areas that my team and I will focus on this year. However, we also employ specialists to help us build our offerings, serve customers and support growth in industries such as utilities, plantations, mining, transportation and aero.
Catherine: Before we continue, I’d like to learn more about your professional background. How did you find your way into the satellite industry and Speedcast?
Erwan: I was a 3D CAD/CAM pioneer when I joined the first French startup to focus on technology in 1986—maybe you remember the Intel 386 PC or Apple Macintosh? My role was to create 3D objects from 2D plans on an Intel 386 processor—fun challenges! I then became an IBMer and re-entered the world of startups in the late 90s, developing various innovations and applications for PCs and cellular phones. I joined the satellite communications industry in 2007, where I spent some time investing in M2M, IoT and IP technologies and solutions. In 2008 I met PJ Beylier for the first time, and eventually joined Speedcast in October 2017.
Catherine: How does the satellite industry compare with the other industries you’ve worked in?
Erwan: The satellite industry is a uniquely small, tight-knit community that allows for building great relationships and strategic partnerships with other suppliers. We’re able to leverage each other’s strengths and innovations to provide the best solutions for our customers, and we’re all working toward the same goal of providing the best available connectivity using the latest technologies for our customers anywhere the world.
With that being said, I feel the biggest challenge we have in satellite compared to other technology sectors is the distribution chain. Many providers have a hand in multiple channels, which can sometimes lead to overlap, forcing competition between companies who are also trusted partners.
Catherine: As you know, there’s a lot of disruption unfolding in the satellite market, how do you see the enterprise and other emerging markets iterating during this time of industry change? And, what growth drivers (eg. HTS connectivity, terminal innovations, other) are you and your customers most excited about?
Erwan: I think simply the increase in availability of reliable connectivity virtually everywhere around the globe is most exciting to my customers because many, particularly in the emerging markets and NGO segments, struggled in the past to be able to budget for satellite connectivity. There are now effective solutions that can be built using hybrid or even non-satellite technologies, allowing customers to access reliable communications within budget. On another note, availability within certain geographies has also drastically improved in addition to optimization and security techniques, so customers can do more with the same network infrastructure.
Catherine: Given your background in telecom and work with the enterprise and other markets, do you see convergence between telecom and satellite? And will you develop hybrid solutions for Speedcast?
Erwan: I absolutely see convergence between telecommunications and satellite— I think that’s where the market is headed overall. Speedcast currently has a number of technologies we’re using today for customers that utilize multiple access technologies to achieve a hybrid connectivity solution. For example, our offshore 4G/LTE and GSM solutions, our wireless near-shore radios, and our network management system, which can automatically switch configurations onto the best available network (whether it’s satellite or something else) are investments we have already made to further the development of merging telecoms and satellite together, creating one seamless communications platform.
Catherine: What are the biggest challenges in bringing hybrid connectivity solutions to market? Are they technical, commercial or relational? In your opinion, what’s needed or what’s the best approach for overcoming these obstacles?
Erwan: The biggest challenge is commercial. Building a solution that meets both the customer’s business needs and expectations is not easy. We find that expectations for technology today are very high. For example, customers expect ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage on site. In this situation, many access points may be required to overcome the environment, which increases the cost. So although Wi-Fi is a very mature technology with many products available, the implementation can drive the cost up beyond what the customer was originally expecting.
Experience has shown us that the best approach is to work with someone on a broad array of solutions and with the knowledge and skills to implement them. There is no single solution; rather, the best solution is often a trade-off and you need to work with the right partner that can help you understand the options.
Catherine: How important is system interoperability to your enterprise customers? If important, what forms (e.g. frequency, altitudes, commands) are key to meeting the needs of your customers?
Erwan: Interoperability for our customers comes in the form of seamless and smooth operation. There is no longer an appetite for just a product, but rather a solution that simply works. When you pick up your cell phone, you expect it to work, regardless of the country or operators; it’s a system of cell, Wi-Fi, computer and applications. We see the same expectation in satellite. Integrating and building systems, not products, is key to providing our customers a seamless experience. These integrated systems can have many key pieces as you mention, but the real trick is getting all of those pieces to work together for the best experience.
Catherine: Given the end-user heritage of MSUA, what end-user in the enterprise or emerging marketspace would you recommend I reach out to for a Mobility News interview and why?
Erwan: Australia Antarctic Division www.antarctica.gov.au/ : Leading Australia’s Antarctic Program.
Speedcast has become the sole supplier of satellite communications to the Casey community in Antarctica, where we have been able to make a significant improvement in the reliability and accessibility of connectivity provided to the area, communicating with servers located in Kingston, and cutting down congestion on the satellite link, thus improving response times. A wide range of applications are used by local medical, commerce and trade organizations to run daily operations and keep in touch with the rest of the world. Scientists also use the service to collaborate with local and worldwide educational institutions, gaining access to information in order to conduct experiments and research as well as share findings and data in their fields of expertise. Explorers and vacationers now have easy access to keep in touch with family and friends as well as ensure their safety while out on excursions.
Catherine: Erwan, thank you again for taking time for a Mobility News interview and for being a great addition to the MSUA Board of Directors. I look forward to watching future successes unfold from Speedcast’s Enterprise Division.