DataPath Expands Focus To Commercial Markets

By | March 10, 2008 | Broadcasting, Feature, Telecom

[Satellite News – 3-10-08] Network solutions company DataPath Inc. named industry veteran Dave Helfgott CEO in February.
    The company has moved from mainly selling systems to the U.S. Department of Defense into the commercial arena, acquiring network management software company ILC in December 2006 and satellite communications manufacturer Swe-Dish Satellite Systems AB in July 2007.
    “In the last year, we have grown from our core, which was largely focused on Marine Corps and Army tactical [satellite communications] and systems integration, to much broader adjacent markets in the United States,” said Helfgott. “In the case of Swe-Dish and MaxView, we grew into the satellite and broadcaster market. All of these markets had the same technical requirements and the need to control those complex media-centric networks.
    As a privately held company, DataPath does not report financial information, but the company has grown from $44 million in revenue in 2003 to $237 million in 2005, and today does about $300 million in revenue per year.
“We are growing every single year, so 2007 was better than 2006, we’ve projected 2008 will be better than 2007,” said Helfgott. “We’re growing every year and we will continue to grow.”    
    Helfgott, who previously served as president and CEO of Americom Government Services Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of SES Global, spoke with Satellite News News Editor Jessica Pearce.

Satellite News: How have these acquisitions helped grow your commercial operations?

Helfgott: We had no commercial business prior to our acquisitions of Swe-Dish and ILC. We were entirely focused on the [Department of Defense], and that remains our core competency. We’re not leaving those markets, we’re quite good in those markets. What we’ve done is expanded into commercial markets from there. So Swe-Dish — about a third of their total business is commercial media based — they are global. They have wins in Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and North America. MaxView software is about roughly half commercial media and half defense-related. One of their biggest customers isDirecTV. They also work with the DKET [Deployable Ku-band Earth Terminals] program. We are now heavily pushing this joint engagement approach where Swe-Dish products will have MaxView embedded, so you’ll have the control software embedded into the products already. And our integrated [satellite communications] and wireless have Maxcom embedded, so you can control these solutions more easily. Each of these businesses has its own plans, but there’s an integrated or cooperative approach as well. We’ve come to the commercial market in the last nine months.

Satellite News: Why did you want to expand into the commercial market?

Helfgott: It’s a good idea to have diverse markets to balance your risk portfolio. We focus on the Army and Marine Corps, but we should also be focusing on the Navy, Air Force and National Guard. We focus on [Department of Defense] programs, but we also should focus on civilian government satcom and wireless programs. We focus on the U.S. government. We want to focus also on non-U.S. allied government opportunities. Lastly, we focus on certain aspect of commercial to complement our government work. You have a sense of the market coverage, but in every case we don’t leave our core competency.
Every one of those users I described are specifically [satellite communications] and wireless and media network type applications. When I say commercial, what I’m referring to is the broadcaster/satcom operator marketplace. We’re not very broadly outside of that space yet. The technical requirements of DirecTV are highly similar to the technical requirements of the [U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency] when it comes to monitoring, controlling, and automating a videocentric satellite network. We can take what we learn from one market and apply it to another market and vice versa.

Satellite News: Do you think too much of your current business is focused on military revenues?

Helfgott: The core driver of our core business is the C4ISR part of the U.S. [Department of Defense] market, which is the command control and communication part. The [satellite communications] and wireless and telecom part of budget and the same thing for civil governments and for allied ministries of defense is this idea of network centricity and information superiority. There is no going back from here. The forecast from U.S. strategic command, from organizations like Futron [Corp.], from various government agencies and the industry is fairly consistent, that regardless of specific operations that are going on around the world, regardless of the potential changes in the political landscape, the way that military operations will continue going forward is based around network centricity.
    For you to be network centric you have to make certain assumptions about the availability of bandwidth and certain kind of applications that are users of bandwidth. To get bandwidth to remote places or to places where there isn’t reliable infrastructure you have to use satellite [or] you have to use wireless. The applications that continue to drive and increase the thirst for network and bandwidth are things like video teleconferencing, [unmanned aerial vehicles], high-density video and graphics, and various military applications, like Command Post of the Future and things like Blue Force Tracking, all require bandwidth and two-way bandwidth. Most of those operate in places that don’t have reasonable or reliable infrastructure. So the forecast as far out as the forecast horizon can go shows this as a very strong and growing market for us.
    And that’s our core. That’s why we’ve been so successful in executing with the Army and the Marine Corps and special operations on the DKET, with the Marine Corps on the [Support Wide Area Network], and the recent one that Swe-dish won with the Navy and the tactical [satellite communications] suitcase system. All those are driven by the same underlying trend which saw burstyness in the last few years with various operations, and that is a long term trend that we’re very positive about.
    In addition to that, you have similar things going on in civilian agencies like the intelligence community, like certain aspects of homeland security [and]like Federal law enforcement. All of these follow the same trends, this idea of having ubiquitous broadband even media-rich networks. To [have those networks] you need all the stuff that we do. Our core and the adjacent markets to our core that we’ve moved into, we think have a very good long-term health. We mitigate the risk of any one program by going into multiple agencies and programs, but we still think our core market is growing at a very nice clip.
    The other part of that equation, which is commercial broadcaster, is going through something similar. This idea of ubiquity — of having bandwidth that is broadband and media rich whenever you need — it is also driving these highly complex media networks. DirecTV is one example. The BBC is another — both customers of ours. In that case we largely participate at the network control software level where these extremely complex, high visibility, very expensive networks need to be managed. We help them do that, but that application is equally applicable to the core market that I described, the [Department of Defense] and civilian government markets. We think the core is great. We think the adjacent market is also great, and what we learned in the commercial sector we can apply to the defense and government sectors and vice versa.

Satellite News: How has the Swe-Dish acquisition helped you in the international market?

Helfgott: Swe-Dish is selling its product suites in very specifically targeted markets in the media broadcasting space in Western Europe, Asia-Pacific and a few other places, and that’s where, on the equipment side, we’re going to begin our expansion. MaxView does a third to a half of its business outside the United States already. That’s the same kind of suspects. They work with broadcasters a lot, satellite operators a lot and also with the [British Ministry of Defence] and NATO. So our push internationally in the [satellite communications] and networks space is through MaxView and Swe-Dish. Our integrated systems group is focused largely on the global requirements of the U.S. government and [Department of Defense] market. If there are opportunities that present themselves because of our relationships with various agencies for integration we’ll pursue them, but we’ve got such a full docket right now just dealing with the United States. But the integration business is where we’re focusing most of our time.

Satellite News: What are you working on for 2008?

Helfgott: Swe-Dish announced in September at IBC that its newest iteration of its highly portable [satellite communications] system would be launched under the Communicase technology brand. Their suitcase antenna systems, which has been very popular, and their drive-away and fly-away systems, are going to evolve into a system that is completely modular, that allows you to switch out reflectors, modems and amplifiers. This will give incredible flexibility. These are a direct result of what they learned over the last two to three years. We’ll be rolling out models of that all year long. In addition, Swe-Dish announced a joint development effort for a [satellite communications]-on-the-move platform. We are already in prototyping and have done several technical demos and trials with several [departments of defense] and various [ministries of defense] potential customers. It’s a very cool system. It is a high-bandwidth, super-accurate satellite communications-on-the-move platform that will be very useful for certain applications that require that kind of capability.
    We’re chasing all the usual suspects. My main point is anything that is a pure play satellite and wireless opportunity, DataPath should consider priming on. We’re very good at being a prime, but in many cases, the Datalink part of this is embedded in much larger program, in those cases DataPath should sub. We don’t build armored personnel carriers, or gray hull ships, or [unmanned aerial vehicles], but all those things have to communicate and tie into other networks. You’ll see us priming where we ought to be priming, and you’ll see a lot more of us subbing with teams for other programs that are not specifically [satellite communications] related but which have components of [satellite communications], and I think that’s a little bit different from DataPath in years past.

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