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Senate Committee Hears Intelsat's CEO on the Future of Satellite

By | October 27, 2017
      Steve Spengler Intelsat

      Steve Spengler, CEO of Intelsat. Photo: Intelsat

      Intelsat Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Stephen Spengler appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation this week to deliver a testimony discussing the current state of the commercial satellite services industry. Backed by a selection of other prominent executives, including OneWeb’s Greg Wyler, Spengler used the opportunity to laud the benefits of satellite technology and also reiterate his confidence in Intelsat’s proposal with Intel for joint use of C-band spectrum with mobile operators.

      In his testimony, Spengler highlighted the convergence of satellite with other communications technologies to build “one common telecommunications infrastructure.” Satellite is only growing more important as demand for affordable, ubiquitous connectivity continues to explode — and this is evident across a range of market sectors, he said.

      Like other global satellite operators, Intelsat — which currently commands more than $2 billion in annual revenue — has expanded its tendrils into many new verticals, including media, maritime, aviation, enterprise networks, the military, and emergency services. But it would be remiss not to acknowledge the significant impact satellite has made in providing basic broadband connectivity to those who would otherwise go without.

      “In rural communities across America, satellite bridges the last mile where cell towers and fiber don’t reach,” Spengler testified. “For example, in rural Alaska, through a partner, we provide connections to enable telemedicine for residents, distance education for K-12 classrooms and virtual field trips for students to places like the Baseball Hall of Fame, zoos and aquariums located in the lower 48.”

      Spengler noted that in aviation today, Wi-Fi connectivity while in transit has become more important to airline passengers than extra legroom. Capitalizing on this demand, satellite companies such as Intelsat have begun to provide broadband connectivity alongside or in lieu of mobile networks to major airlines such as United, Southwest and Delta. Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, for example, are in the midst of developing a hybrid network that will serve flights spanning the entirety of the European continent.

      The same holds true for the seas, where bandwidth demand has spiked in equal measure. “Just a few years ago, a cruise-going family might have brought a single laptop and a cell phone aboard ship. Today, cruise companies find that the average family boards a ship with 10 connected devices. And they expect the same performance at sea that they have at home in the U.S. The demand for connectivity aboard a ship is a solution that only satellite can satisfy,” Spengler said.

      The same characteristics that make satellite suitable for ocean connectivity allow it to function in remote geographies as well, which has proved particularly useful for industries such as oil and gas. “Our corporate data network helps the oil and gas industry to operate efficiently in remote geographies and ocean environments. They require satellite services to connect to their rigs, providing not only operational connectivity, but also broadband services that allow the crews to communicate with family members while on location,” Spengler said.

      Spengler also pointed to the recent disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to highlight the benefits of satellite’s sustainability. “When fiber is cut, cell towers washed away, the electricity is out, and other means of communication are down, satellites remain in place in outer space, Spengler said.”

      Intelsat announced this week that it is teaming up with antenna manufacturer Kymeta to provide connectivity for local telecommunications companies. According to the two companies, they have equipped three vehicles with Kymeta’s electronically steered Flat Panel Antennas (FPAs), which will travel throughout the island delivering supplies and internet connectivity to residents for the remainder of the year.

      The partnership is a testament to satellite’s expected role in the development of connected car technology alongside existing terrestrial networks. According to Spengler, some applications, such as updates on nearby traffic, will run over wireless, while satellite will become the preferred option for applications such as software and mapping updates. “Auto manufacturers are excited about the potential of being able to monitor vehicles and their systems remotely and provide simultaneous software updates to all the owners of a particular model using the point-to-multipoint broadcast feature of satellite,” Spengler said.

      For the future, Spengler said Intelsat will continue to support the development of new telecommunications technology both within the satellite ecosystem — such as Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations — and outside of it. This is why the company has invested in OneWeb, while simultaneously pushing for a new paradigm that enables spectrum sharing between satellite and mobile networks for 5G.

      “We recognize that 5G is the next generation of mobile technology and satellite will play an important role in extending 5G services,” he said. “Our proposed plan offers a win for everyone.”