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Global Satellite Operators Say 2021 Exceeded Expectations Despite Uncertainties

By | December 13, 2021

Photo: SES via Business Wire

On Monday, executives from some of the biggest satellite operators told the audience at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week (WSBW) that they performed better than expected in 2021, despite unclear conditions in the market created by COVID.

Pradman Kaul, CEO of Hughes Network Systems, said that Hughes had a good 2021, and that there was strong demand for satellite capacity, even for the players that operate in different markets.

For many, getting new satellites launched in the near future is particularly important. This is true for Hughes as it looks to grow its North American broadband business. Kaul said that Hughes saw significant growth in consumer broadband segments in South and Central America. However, due to capacity issues, it didn’t see much growth in North America.

“We have 1.2 million subscribers on Jupiter 1 and 2. We are out of capacity [in North America]. We need to get Jupiter 3 launched, and then we will see our growth in the North American consumer business again,” Kaul said. “We are continuing to grow in the areas such as South America. This is led by Brazil. We have almost 300,000 subscribers in Brazil.”

Steve Collar, CEO of SES, said 2022 is shaping up to be a massive year for the operator with a slew of satellite launches. The next-generation O3b mPOWER satellite launches will be fundamental to the operator’s growth plans for the next few years.

Collar also said that his company’s video business was a strong revenue driver in 2021. “Our business health is related to our customers’ business health. We are seeing some good momentum on the DTH [Direct to Home] side. They have been flat to growing, which has been better in the last two to three years. These players are generating record revenues. I wouldn’t describe the video industry as in rude health [good health], but it is not far away from that,” he said.

Collar said SES’s broadcast customers are developing hybrid platforms and have embraced the disruption that naturally comes in the video business. “We have seen a balance of what is carried over satellite and what is carried terrestrially,” he added.

Viasat was undoubtedly involved in the biggest story of the year, with the company’s acquisition of Inmarsat in a deal worth over $7 billion. The company will be one to watch in 2022. Mark Dankberg, Viasat’s chairman, sees a number of potential addressable markets for Viasat. He cites that satellite has only penetrated about 20% of the In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) market, meaning there is huge untapped growth for operators like Viasat in aviation.

“There are many exciting opportunities in broadband access when you look at mobility,” Dankberg said. “For example, land mobile has barely even started to get penetrated. There is a constant increase in demand. If you can deliver bandwidth at cost points that customers can afford, there are some big opportunities. I would also like to highlight IoT. We see a lot of opportunities for satellite in the IoT market.”

Eutelsat made strong progress with its KONNECT broadband business which has launched in Europe, and then Africa earlier this year. Michel Azibert, deputy CEO, highlighted the fact that Eutelsat signed four wholesale agreements with major telcos in Europe, and further deals with some of Africa’s major telcos.

Like Collar, Azibert also highlighted the importance of video, saying it represents 60% of Eutelsat’s business, and helps the operator generate a lot of cashflow. Eutelsat could see a return to growth after key satellites launch in 2022.

“We are extremely confident we will return to growth. We will launch four satellites in 2022. In 2023, we will have a significant step change in our growth profile. There could be a step change of 50 million to 70 million euros [in revenues] in 2023. Mobility and broadband will be the drivers of our growth going forward. We estimate the market for broadband users in EMEA is 10 million users. There is a strong opportunity in this market, as an example,” Azibert said.

For Telesat, 2021 was the year it announced the Lightspeed Low-Earth Orbit constellation details, one of the most ambitious plans ever put forward by one of the established global satellite operators.

Dan Goldberg, Telesat CEO, highlighted that Telesat has secured around $3 billion in financing for Lightspeed, and already has built up a backlog of $750 million. Telesat is now a public traded entity, another key milestone the company reached this year. Goldberg also echoed Collar and Azibert, saying that DTH and video business continues to be a vital cashflow engine for companies like Telesat, as they look to expand their business in other areas.

Goldberg made some interesting comments about the overall expansion of the addressable market for satellite.

“You could argue that the addressable market for satellite services is not all that big. It is about $18 billion to $20 billion, and hasn’t really deviated from that. However, I see a big opportunity is serving a larger addressable market,” Goldberg said. “We think by bringing the kind of capability Lightspeed has, it will open up a larger addressable market for satellite players. We can all debate whether Starlink is a great business plan or not. But they are helping enlarge the market. I am a big believer that demand for broadband connectivity is growing very rapidly. If you bring the right capacity, and it is differentiated enough, you will be able to serve a larger market.”