Satellite 2014: Innovation, new talent and spectrum on CEO minds

March 12, 2014 09.24 Europe/London By Cynthia Ritchie, Satellite 2014, Washington DC

Satellite 2014 PlenaryAt the customary ‘Big Four’ plenary session at Satellite 2014, the mood was buoyant and collegiate, but excitement about enterprise and rapidly emerging mobility services in maritime and aeronautical, as well as concerns about the preservation of frequencies in the face of the mobile industry, and the need to inject new innovation and young people into the business took centre stage.

The CEOs of the Big Four satellite operators – Michel de Rosen from Eutelsat, Dave McGlade of Intelsat, Dan Goldberg from Telesat and, in his last appearance at the annual Washington satellite congress as CEO of SES, Romain Bausch – were far more concerned about the need to band together as an industry to lobby regulators than they were about crowing about their competitive advantages.

They painted an optimistic picture across all applications. McGlade: ”we are very optimistic about the entire industry, across all applications, there are bright spots.”

Goldberg: ”there is a ton going on. Our biggest challenge is meeting the growing demand from our customers. So we are in the process of designing and procuring new capacity. It’s fun right now.”

De Rosen, “I live in western Europe, where many people are depressed because in this region, growth is not doing as well as the rest of the world. But 80 percent of future growth will come from the South. This is why we bought Satmex. It is a brilliant company…in emerging markets there is growth.

“In this industry’s number one segment is broadcast media, a lot is going on. We only see the beginning of the expansion of HD. Only 10.8% of our channels on our satellites are in HD, so there will be a lot of growth in the move to HD, and Ultra HD will provide more growth for another 20 years.

But for all of us, a major trend, is the desire of our customers to have connectivity. If we are able to meet this need of our customers, the video broadcast segment will be able to grow for many years to come. We have a terrific time ahead”

Bausch echoed de Rosen’s optimism, and added: “the excitement is that there will be new applications and segments for satellites, high throughput satellites…and more emerging markets…I see huge opportunities for satellites entering markets not currently served by satellites.”

Bausch continued “the same is true for video where satellites are about to make themselves essential in the new IP environment. Last year I spoke about SAT-IP, IP-LNB, where the digital video broadcasting signal coming in by satellite is transformed into an IP stream and then wireless into the home to up to eight different devices. So the name of the game for the satellite industry will be to become an integral; part of distribution of content in the home.”

The biggest topic on the CEOs’ minds were those of common interest for all the industry. McGlade: “if we are going to grow longer term, we have to look at being innovative, at driving efficiencies and open up new markets and expand in ways we have not done before.”

“We have to redefine what the market place is for us, to look at ways of how we can be more relevant, and expand our position in the media and telecommunications landscape … We have to be efficient, and push the boundaries.”

The CEOs spoke unanimously about the measures that the industry should undertake collaboratively in order to compete with other technologies and industries.There were emphatic calls for everyone in the satellite industry to do whatever they can to impress on governments and regulators the importance of retaining C-band in the satellite spectrum. This comes in the face of forceful lobbying on the part of mobile operators prior to WRC 15 next year.

De Rosen did not hold back as he said that the claims being by the mobile operators, and the study being reviewed by the ITU on this topic, as regards the amount of spectrum they need is “fraud”. Among the panellists the word was used interchangeably with “flawed” but the message was the same – that the cellular operators are being overtly predatory in this area, and it is up to the entire satellite industry to educate decision makers on the “grossly exaggerated” claims and data they are being fed by mobile giants – De Rosen saying the mobile players “want to take our lunch” – and, moreover, the regulators need to be educated about the important social and humanitarian role satellites play, for instance improving communications in emerging economies and supporting governments worldwide, in today’s world.

Meanwhile, the leaders were at pains to stress that C-band remains the backbone of satellite broadcasting all over the world, even though it does not get the headlines that Ka and Ku do. De Rosen: “Demand for C Band is strong – C band is like a good Ford Taurus or a Volvo, customers trust it.”

In addition, there were calls for much more effort to be made to bring younger people into the satellite industry, with de Rosen adding that there is a urgent need for more “gender equality” in the satellite business.