Connecting the world
Merchant shipping, governments, the military, airlines, media, the oil and gas industry, mining and construction, and aid agencies – all need the capability to communicate swiftly anywhere – even in the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth. As the industry leader and pioneer of mobile satellite communications, Inmarsat offers an unrivalled portfolio of global satcom solutions and value-added services for use on land, at sea and in the air.
Formed in 1979 to provide safety and other communication services to the maritime community, Inmarsat today has offices in more than 40 locations worldwide. Inmarsat owns and operates three global constellations of 10 satellites flying in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. Four powerful new spacecraft are scheduled to be launched later this year and in 2014.
Andy Start, president of Inmarsat Global Government, is responsible for the delivery of Inmarsat services to the military, emergency services, security services, border agencies, coast guards, and all other non-U.S. government customers across the world. He runs a global team with hubs in Australia, Singapore, the Netherlands, South Africa, the UK, UAE, Canada, Washington and Miami.
Start has extensive experience of leading defense businesses on an international basis. Prior to joining Inmarsat at its global headquarters in London last April, he was president of Harris Corporation’s international tactical radio business, managing director of BAE Systems Platform Solutions Business, and director of EADS Astrium’s military space business.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros catches up with Start during a recent visit to Japan.
What brings you to Japan?
This is my first trip out here since I joined Inmarsat last April. We have been working our way around Asia-Pacific because we have a lot of business in the region. Although I met most of our partner companies and end users at our Global Partner Conference in Budapest in November, on this trip, I have been talking with them about the latest developments and introducing them to what’s coming out.
What services do you provide?
Overall, we have four sectors – maritime, enterprise, aviation and government. So basically, we cover anybody who needs reliable mobile communications – whether on land, at sea or in the air. The products start with the IsatPhone-Pro. That’s a low-cost, handheld satellite phone that lets you make calls - anywhere - around the globe, and costs less than an iPhone and less than a dollar a minute to make a call. That device will work anywhere anytime. It talks directly to the satellite which is 36,000 kms above us. In Japan, the IsatPhone has really been popular. It’s a handheld, very rugged, cost effective satellite phone that has helped to save lives around the world. Then we go to our BGAN device. Little bit bigger than an iPad, it gives you broadband Internet anywhere.
This connectivity is so important when a crisis happens. We’ve been around for 30 years and our mobile satellite communication services have been used to support relief efforts in many disasters. Aid agencies, governments and people across the world rely on our services. We play an important role in saving many thousands of lives every year. The Australian maritime safety authority, for example, saved around 19,000 lives last year, supported by our communication services. In a crisis, any aid agency, anywhere in the world can have immediate access to our services through a charity called Telecoms Sans Frontieres. Virtually every major charity or NGO that is operating in a disaster zone relies on our communications services to help them with their life saving work.
Who are your clients?
We are the leader in mobile satellite communications to the maritime sector with thousands of vessels sailing in every ocean which rely on us for communications. It is the single biggest segment of our business. Anything that floats above a certain size will have some sort of Inmarsat capability. As you know, Inmarsat started out as an international government organization before it became a commercial entity. It was designed originally for safety at sea. As a result, we became ubiquitous across both military and civil areas for ensuring their safety. As the service progressed, we started adding communications and then high-speed data to our service portfolio.
We extended these capabilities to both enterprises and governments, including offering civil contingency communications. We also do a lot of work with airlines, where – like maritime – we are the market leader. One of our big partners in aviation is OnAir. If you’ve flown with an airline that provides the OnAir service, then you’ve been using our satellites.
Was 2012 a good year for the company?
Yes, it was. Our share price has grown significantly over the past 12 months. If you look at the global business, what is fueling the growth is the recognition that connectivity is essential to business operations. Satellite communications are now being regarded as an essential cost-reduction mechanism as opposed to an expensive overhead.
How come you don’t have an office in Japan?
In most countries around the world, we sell through partners. There are one or two places where we sell directly and that tends to be where we have large relationships with the governments. In Japan, we have excellent partners such as JSAT Mobile, KDDI and JDC and we also work with Japanese equipment manufacturers. Our Japanese partners are very skilled in satellite communications, so we don’t need to have our people permanently based here.
How do you market the company?
Our primary focus is to communicate through our partners who then work with the end users. This is where our energy goes. We don’t need to advertise because we are well known in the circles where people need to use our services. Additionally, we attend a few specialized industry shows.
What trends are we seeing in mobile satellite communications?
The general trends are for more connectivity and more utility from our devices, more speed and smaller devices. This year, we’ll be launching a new satellite called Alphasat, built by Astrium, which will be our 11th in the constellation and will extend the capability of our current services. It will provide additional L-band capacity for coverage of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Then in Q4, we will be launching our first Global Xpress spacecraft. This will be the first of three satellites which will deliver the world’s first ka-band global service, offering downlink speeds of up to 50Mbps, and up to 5Mbps over the uplink, accessible from compact user terminals.
What is the big advantage of Global Xpress?
From the beginning, we have always been a global satellite provider. If you’re on a plane, ship or boat or in the media, you want something that supports mobile communications more like a cell phone service. So Inmarsat provides a cell phone-like experience but delivered from space. This capability is built into our current L-band spacecraft, which work well for omni-directional antennae. So for very small devices, like an IsatPhone Pro, L-band is perfect. However, L-band offers relatively limited bandwidth. We’ve extended our L-band service from what used to be 256 kilobits to about 650 kilobits or over a megabit if you put two terminals together.
So what we are doing with Global Xpress is to provide that same cellular-like capability covering the world but we’re doing it with superfast high speed broadband. What’s unique about Global Xpress is that using a small terminal, just 60 cms in diameter, you can get about 5 megabits out and 50 megabits in, which is a phenomenal amount of broadband capacity and this will be available across land, sea and air throughout the world.
This service will be significantly more cost-effective than any alternative roaming service. The focus of the GX service is not price, but capability – a very high data rate available via a small terminal. Our L-band service, enhanced with the launch of Alphasat, will continue to provide highly resilient services which will complement GX. Our expectations are that a lot of users will have an L-band terminal for ultimate mobility and a GX terminal for its high data rate. We think that this will be a really compelling value proposition, particularly when you recognize that you can pack that up into a suitcase and go anywhere in the world and turn it on.
You must have some bright people working for you.
Inmarsat has about 1,500 people worldwide. Over half are engineers specializing in satellite communications. Space is such an exciting industry. We are continually receiving applications to work for us and it is hard to choose from such an array of talent. Overall, we’ll probably add about 200 more people this year including 25 more in my team.
How do you keep up with the latest tech?
Because I am a satellite engineer by trade, I find this stuff a lot of fun. Recently, I was at our hub in Singapore and enjoyed walking around the lab and integration facility with the engineers. I feel that I learn more by talking to people than I do by just reading.
What is a typical day for you?
A typical day is incredibly diverse. We work very long days because my team is spread across the world – Singapore, Australia, Miami, Washington. I may start at 5 a.m. talking to Australia and finish back at home having a conversation with Brazil. In between, we might be solving problems for clients, introducing new technology, looking at launch programs or more cost-effective price plans.
How do you see your role?
I think it is important to set the vision and strategy. If there is no clarity in the strategic direction, it is hard for anyone else to know where we are going and how we are going to get there. What we do helps people save lives. That gives us a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
How do you like to relax away from work?
I have 3 teenage children, so mostly I am committed to being their taxi driver. I go to the gym and do aerobics classes with my wife. When I travel abroad, I go jogging early in the mornings, which is a great way to see a city like Tokyo.
For more information, visit www.inmarsat.com