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Globalstar Sat-Fi Service Targets Two Billion-People Market

By Caleb Henry | February 5, 2014
Globalstar Sat-Fi MSS

Globalstar CEO Jay Monroe. Photo: Globalstar/ Frank Aymami

[Via Satellite 02-05-2014] The past few weeks have seen an explosion of new mobile satellite devices. These products, ranging from Thuraya’s Android-enabled SatSleeve to the portable satellite hotspot Iridium GO!, are all emphasizing the idea that mobile satellite devices should be looked at as an asset, not an inconvenience. To pioneer this new attitude, each of these products enable and encourage the use of pre-existing consumer products — especially smartphones. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that consumers can now say “there’s an app for that.”

Globalstar’s Sat-Fi MSS solution enables users to use any Wi-Fi capable device through an app and a Sat-Fi hot spot. Though its release was sandwiched between several other MSS announcements, Jay Monroe, CEO of Globalstar says the product has been in the works for several years.

“I can’t give a specific date, but the idea of having a very inexpensive consumer product that allows anybody’s phone to become a satellite phone, to me is the holy grail of satellite service,” he said. “It is because there are two billion people on the planet that don’t have access to communications either where they are working, where they are playing or where they are living.”

Globalstar is specifically targeting consumers with Sat-Fi, hoping to expand the MSS market in this direction instead of specific enterprise verticals like the new Iridium Pilot land station. By 2022, NSR analysts expect the consumer device market to yield more than $1 billion in service revenues, according to the research firm’s Land, Mobile and Handheld Satellite Markets Report. Globalstar plans to attract revenue primarily by expanding the market, not oversaturating it.

“We’re trying to reach the mass consumer, or the extremely price-sensitive consumer, and the consumer that won’t buy an expensive device,” said Monroe. “If you can take your iPhone, Android phone or Windows 8 phone and therefore have all of your contacts, the ability for people to call you using the number they know, your computer files and your text messaging history within it, and just use that same device off the grid — that is an excellent outcome for most people.”

With so many new products on the market, companies will need to seek ways to differentiate their offerings. Globalstar, Iridium and Thuraya are also in the traditional handheld market, which NSR expects to shrink by 10 percent from 2012 to 2022. At the same time consumer handhelds, the SatSleeve Form Factor and hotspot devices are all expected to grow. According to Monroe, cost remains the primary inhibitor for the small but growing consumer market.

“There are plenty of satellite phones that cost a thousand or more dollars, and service providers that charge a dollar a minute or more,” he explained. “Globalstar’s mantra has been for some time, very publically, that it is our intention to have many more customers, measured in the next few years in the millions, not in the hundreds of thousands, and to create products that will make that possible by driving down the cost of the product and the service so that the overall addressable market expands.”

Iridium’s focus on vertical markets and Thuraya’s established presence in the Africa, Middle East and Asia (AMEA) region means that the consumer market in North and Latin America will likely be where Sat-Fi receives its strongest uptake. Globalstar’s pre-paid service launched first in Europe, but Monroe said there are no current plans to launch Sat-Fi on the same continent. Where the MSS product will release has yet to be determined, and a price point has not been released, but announcements are expected for both in the days to come.

“Our long-term vision is that it is like any other consumer product,” said Monroe. “Its feature set will increase, its form factor will be reduced and its price will come down so that it becomes financially available to more and more consumers. It opens up a much broader marketplace for people to be able to afford truly remote connectivity.”