Volume VI, No. I January 2021
Table of Contents
Industry Trends and Analysis: (pg. 3)
Patee Sarasin, former CEO of Nok Air:
"Unlocking the Riches of In-flight Wi-Fi" (pg. 4)
David Bruner, former V.P. Panasonic Avionics:
"Buckle Up! :Turbulence Ahead in Airline Connectiviy Markets"
"The Promise of the New Iridium and Aireon Services: Big Advancements in Air Traffic Management on the Horizon" (pg. 26)
Ernst Peter Hovinga, CEO Hiber: "Disrupting the Satellite IoT Connectivity Market: The Promise of Hiber" (p.31)
"Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events"
In This Issue...
Highlighting Disruptive, New, Mobility-Focused Satellite Ventures and Technologies
Satellite mobility World
Editorially Speaking: "Is AST & Science's SpaceMobile Ready for the NASDAQ?"
"SPACS: A New Way to Fund Space-Related Ventures?" with Quilty Analytics Partner, Chris Quilty
Feature: "Smartsky: Innovative ATG Provider Readying for Takeoff" with New CEO, David Helfgott
"With Product and Strategy Renewed, Kymeta Surges Ahead" with V.P. Product Management, Lilac Muller
"The Race to Ultra-High-Speed Connectivity" with David Burr, Comtech EF Data V.P. Product Development
Happy New Year, and welcome to the sixth year of Satellite Mobility World. Thanks to all of our friends and supporters who make the magazine possible. We look forward to entertaining and informing you in 2021.
You may have heard the AST & Science is attempting to list on the NASDAQ through a merger with Provident Partners "blank check," Special Purpose Acquisition Company, (SPAC). In our January editorial, we assess AST Science's suitability for a public listing. In an interview with Chris Quilty, Partner in Quilty Analytics, Chris addresses SPACs and their potential for funding Space-related ventures.
For our feature article, SmartSky: Innovative ATG Provider Ready for Takeoff, we interviewed recently appointed CEO, David Helfgott. In it, Dave sees the challenges and opportunities ahead as the company prepares to battle with market-leader Gogo. Next, we turn to Kymeta.
With a fresh infusion of capital, a significantly improved product, its new u8 antenna, and an enterprise and government marketing play, Kymeta's future is looking promising. In our article, V.P. of Product Management, Lilac Muller, overviews the new antenna and the company's evolutionary marketing strategy.
Finally, we're going technical to look at the latest ultra-high-speed modem technology with Comtech V.P. of Product Development, David Burr. Long a leader in the ultra-high-demand VSAT markets, David explores the technological advances that have made its modems popular in Cruise, mobile backhaul, and government. He also makes an unusual argument against the imposition of universal standards in Hub and modem infrastructure markets.
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Table of Contents...
"Hot News and Commentary" (pg.3)
"SmallSat News and Ventures" (pg. 4)
Editorially Speaking: "Is AST Sciences Space Mobile Venture Ready for the NASDAQ?" (pg. 6)
"SPACs: A New Way to Fund Space-Related Ventures" with Quilty Analytics Partner, Chris Quilty (pg. 10)
"SmartSky: Innovative ATG Provider Readying for Takeoff" with newly appointed CEO, David Helfgott (pg. 22)
"With Product and Strategy Renewed, Kymeta Surges Ahead" with V.P. of Product Management, Lilac Muller. (pg. 31)
"The Race to Ultra-High-Speed Connectivity" with Comtech V.P. of Product Development, David Burr (Pg. 36)
Upcoming Satellite Industry Events (Pg. 44)
SATELLITE MOBILITY WORLD
Custom-built Antenna Architecture Will Allow Amazon to Deliver a Small, Affordable Customer Terminal to Connect Unserved and Underserved Communities Around the World
Months after receiving approval from the Federal Communications Commission, Project Kuiper has hit another key milestone on its path to delivering fast, affordable broadband through a constellation of 3,236 low Earth orbit satellites.
We recently completed initial development on the antenna for our low-cost customer terminal, a critical part of the Kuiper System that allows customers to connect to satellites passing overhead. The Ka-band phased array antenna is based on a new architecture capable of delivering high-speed, low-latency broadband in a form factor that is smaller and lighter than legacy antenna designs. Our prototype is already delivering speeds up to 400 Mbps (Megabits per second), and performance will continue to improve in future iterations.
“If you want to make a difference for unserved and underserved communities, you need to deliver service at a price that makes sense for customers,” said Rajeev Badyal, VP of Technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. “This simple fact inspired one of our key tenets for Kuiper: to invent a light, compact phased array antenna that would allow us to produce an affordable customer terminal. It’s incredible to see such a small form factor delivering this type of speed and performance.”
The most effective way to reduce terminal production costs is to decrease the size, weight, and complexity of its antenna. This is difficult to do in the Ka-band, which requires more physical separation between transmit and receive antennas to cover its wide frequency range. For this reason, legacy Ka-band antennas place the transmit antenna and receive antenna next to one another, requiring a larger surface area and increasing production costs.
Our phased array antenna takes a different approach. Instead of placing antenna arrays adjacent to one another, we used tiny antenna element structures to overlay one over the other. This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band. The breakthrough allows us to reduce the size and weight of the entire terminal, while operating in a frequency that delivers higher bandwidth and better performance than other bands. Our design uses a combination of digital and analog components to electronically steer Ka-band beams toward satellites passing overhead.
The result is a single aperture phased array antenna that measures 12 inches in diameter, making it three times smaller and proportionately lighter than legacy antenna designs. This order of magnitude reduction in size will reduce production costs by an equal measure, allowing Amazon to offer customers a terminal that is more affordable and easier to install.
Amazon engineers have tested the antenna in multiple environments to ensure it will meet customers’ standards for speed and performance. The antenna has passed all corresponding tests for speed and latency—offering maximum throughput of up to 400 Mbps, and streaming 4K-quality video from a geostationary (GEO) satellite, which is stationed at an altitude approximately 50 times farther from Earth than where Project Kuiper satellites will be deployed.
Kymeta Corporation Announces $30 Million Equity Investment by Hanwha Systems to Back Global Mobile Satellite-Cellular Connectivity
REDMOND, Wash.-- December 28th -Kymeta (www.kymetacorp.com) — the communications company making mobile global — announced today that Hanwha Systems (HSC) (www.hanwha.com), a leading global solutions company that provides differentiated smart technologies in defense electronics and information infrastructure, has signed an agreement to invest $30 million to back the development of Kymeta’s next generation solutions, the Kymeta u8™ and Kymeta Connect™.
The investment will further Kymeta’s global market reach, accelerate production of Kymeta products and solutions, and improve the overall growth trajectory of the company. The funding is anticipated to support increased unit production, an enhanced customer experience, and the ongoing development of Kymeta’s next generation capabilities. HSC aims to support Kymeta’s metamaterial-based antenna technology and gain a foothold in the rapidly growing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) antenna market. With the capital investment and upon regulatory approvals, HSC will also receive a seat on the Kymeta Board of Directors.
Viasat to Acquire RigNet in All-Stock Transaction
HOUSTON, Dec. 21, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- RigNet, Inc. (NASDAQ: RNET, the "Company"), a leading provider of ultra-secure, intelligent networking solutions and specialized applications, announced that its Board of Directors has unanimously approved the Company's entry into a definitive agreement whereby Viasat Inc. (NASDAQ: VSAT) will acquire RigNet in an all-stock transaction representing an enterprise value of $222 million, including RigNet's net debt as of September 30, 2020, based on the closing price of Viasat common stock on December 18, 2020. The strategic combination creates a vertically integrated communications company serving customers in industries that include government, airlines, residential, energy, and others by providing cutting-edge connectivity from the satellite to the end customer and delivering premier managed communications services coupled with a suite of advanced application solutions that include real-time machine learning and advanced cybersecurity.
"We are excited to announce this strategic combination with Viasat, a leading global innovator in satellite technology and service delivery," said Steven Pickett, RigNet's President and Chief Executive Officer. "This is a transformative merger with a company that is highly diversified across a number of important verticals, maintains a strong balance sheet, and is planning to expand its global satellite coverage significantly through its upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation. We believe the merger will create new opportunities for the combined companies to serve customers even better in energy and to expand more rapidly into other vertical markets. The combined companies will also be able to further accelerate the growth of RigNet's industry-leading AI-backed machine learning business, Intelie, and our other specialized apps, across a broader customer base than RigNet could have reached independently."
Rick Baldridge, Viasat's President and Chief Executive Officer, commented, "We believe that RigNet will be a wonderful addition to Viasat's expanding commercial connectivity program. We admire what Steve and his team have built over the last several years, performing well relative to peers in the energy sector, moving up the stack, and delivering some truly exceptional capabilities that are unique among their competitors. We see RigNet as an important element in our global expansion efforts and expect to achieve accretive synergies that go well beyond traditional cost savings. There is tremendous upside potential here, and we look forward to closing the acquisition as quickly as possible so both companies and our stockholders can realize the benefits of the combination and fulfill our vision of connecting everyone, anywhere."
AST & Science LLC to Become Public Company Through Combination with New Providence Acquisition Corp.
AST & Science LLC (“AST SpaceMobile”) is building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones
AST SpaceMobile to become publicly listed through a business combination with New Providence Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: NPA, NPAUU and NPAWW)
Combined company to have an estimated post-transaction enterprise value of $1.4 billion and will become listed on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol “ASTS” following expected transaction close in the first quarter of 2021
Transaction to provide up to $462 million in gross proceeds, comprised of New Providence Acquisition Corp.’s $232 million of cash held in trust (assuming no redemptions) and a $230 million fully committed common stock PIPE at $10.00 per share, including investments from Rakuten, Vodafone, American Tower, UBS O’Connor and a broad base of financial institutions
AST SpaceMobile LLC shareholders Vodafone, Rakuten, American Tower, and Cisneros will increase their equity holding through participation in the PIPE financing in support of AST SpaceMobile’s transition into the publicly listed company
MIDLAND, TX— December 16, 2020 – AST & Science LLC (“AST SpaceMobile”), the company building the first and only space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones, today announced it has entered into a business combination agreement with New Providence Acquisition Corp. (“New Providence”) (NASDAQ: NPA, NPAUU and NPAWW), a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company. Upon closing of the transaction, AST SpaceMobile will become a publicly traded company, and it is expected that its common stock will be listed on the NASDAQ exchange under the symbol “ASTS” upon closing the transaction. Abel Avellan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AST SpaceMobile, will continue to lead the business post-transaction. The combined company will have an implied pro forma enterprise value of approximately $1.4 billion and is expected to have an equity value of approximately $1.8 billion at closing.
Backed by an extensive IP and patent portfolio, AST SpaceMobile will uniquely address the $1 trillion global mobile wireless services market by delivering seamless broadband cellular connectivity directly to unmodified, existing mobile phones, without any need for specialized hardware. With an expected initial access to 1.3 billion subscribers of some of the world’s largest cellular operators, AST SpaceMobile will be positioned to rapidly scale its revenue streams as it deploys its space assets for nearly complete global coverage, while benefitting from operating leverage and low maintenance capital costs via its super-wholesale, business-to-business model. Once deployed, AST SpaceMobile’s services will meet the needs of at least five billion mobile subscribers who face broadband connectivity issues when moving in and out of cellular coverage, and will enable access by more than half of the world population that do not have internet on their phone.
Iridium Partner PredictWind Helps Guide Over 90 Ocean Cruising Club Yachts Home Safely During the Covid-19 Pandemic
MCLEAN, VA., December 18, 2020 – During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many mariners sailing across the world’s oceans were impacted. The Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) for one, had sailing yachts affected by border closings and had to reroute across the Atlantic ahead of the Caribbean’s traditional hurricane season. In an epic Atlantic crossing, PredictWind’s Offshore App helped deliver over 90 OCC yachts to safety.
Most of the fleet had shore-side support while at sea, utilizing the PredictWind Offshore App with the Iridium GO!® to help safely make the crossing. Others had Iridium® satellite phones connected to their on-board computers running the App. The PredictWind Offshore App helped guide skippers on where to sail in relation to weather and enabled them to see the positions of their fellow fleet members and communicate with them over the Iridium satellite network.
The PredictWind Offshore App enabled the vessels to tap into highly detailed weather routes and forecasts, avoid potentially dangerous weather and catch supporting winds. Each update from the App provided a weather routing analysis and a snapshot of wind strengths, gusts, and waves. The Iridium GO! provided a critical safety feature for the fleet and shore-side support to track the boats and redirect or assist as needed. The safest and most efficient route took them far north, and once the fleet reached the northern iceberg belt, PredictWind also provided important information about weather forecasts.
“It’s been a challenging year for everyone, and this is another example of how Iridium and our partners have helped our customers navigate these unprecedented times,” said Bryan Hartin, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Iridium. “Connectivity has never been more important, and we’re proud that the PredictWind App paired with the Iridium GO! helped members of the Ocean Cruising Club get home safely.”
Selected by OneWeb for Ground System Development and Production under New $250 Million Contract
Hughes to Produce Gateways and User Terminal Modules to Power Services on the Low Earth Orbit Satellite Network
GERMANTOWN, Md., Dec. 16, 2020 -- Hughes Network Systems, LLC (HUGHES), the global leader in broadband satellite networks and services, has been chosen by OneWeb, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellite communications company, to develop and manufacture essential ground system technology for the new LEO constellation. In a three-year contract valued at approximately $250 million, Hughes will produce the gateway electronics for the OneWeb system as well as the core module that will be used in every user terminal.
"Today's announcement of a continued technology partnership with OneWeb reflects our position as the trusted innovator in the industry," said Pradman Kaul, president, Hughes. "The ground system we develop will enable reliable, low latency broadband data, ideal for a wide range of customer applications."
Neil Masterson, CEO, OneWeb, said: "OneWeb is building a global broadband network to deliver high-throughput, low latency enterprise grade connectivity services for a wide range of government, commercial, and mobility use cases. Our goal is to commercialize services in a year, and our partnership with Hughes will be vital in helping us launch a secure, trusted, resilient, space-based network."
Designed by Hughes engineers, each OneWeb gateway is capable of 10,000 hand-offs per second, orchestrating handover and tracking of hundreds of gigabits of data across hundreds of beams and millions of users. Under an agreement with OneWeb prior to a restructuring in March, seven gateways had been installed with several more in various stages of production. Under the new agreement, Hughes has ramped up production on the gateway equipment and resumed testing on the installed systems.
The agreement announced today also calls for Hughes to develop and manufacture the core module for the OneWeb user terminals. Designed by Hughes, the core module is uniquely adaptable across fixed as well as aeronautical and maritime mobility terminals, for either electronically or mechanically steered antennas.
After filing for bankruptcy protection in March, OneWeb is now under ownership by a new consortium led by the U.K. Government and Bharti Enterprises and in which Hughes has agreed in principle to invest $50 million.
World’s First Truly Global, Real-Time Maritime Emergency Service Launched by Iridium
MCLEAN, Va., - December 15, 2020 - Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: IRDM) today announced a historic achievement with the launch of the Iridium® Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) service. The system commenced operation on Friday, December 11th and with it, for the first time in history, Iridium has given seafarers a real-time emergency response and rescue service that works everywhere in the world. No other maritime emergency response system matches the coverage and real-time communications capability of the Iridium GMDSS service. The announcement came during a virtual press conference held featuring Iridium leadership, industry officials and experts.
GMDSS is an internationally regulated service, governed by the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention. It provides life-saving assistance to seafarers in distress and has required equipment on board more than 60,000 ships today, with many ships carrying multiple terminals. Iridium’s service functions much like an international SOS button, however, unlike other options it includes as standard real-time emergency voice calling service, distress alert (SOS button) and maritime safety information with Iridium’s unmatched truly global coverage.
Iridium’s GMDSS service is built on the company’s upgraded $3 billion satellite network, completed in 2019, and utilizes the company’s valuable L-band satellite spectrum. This spectrum serves as a weather-resilient complement to other satellite broadband capabilities on ships, aircraft and vehicles and is also a requirement for GMDSS terminals on SOLAS-class vessels. With over 1.4 million subscribers around the world, including communications systems on tens of thousands of ships and aircraft today, Iridium’s GMDSS service launch epitomizes the company’s commitment and tradition of creating a safer environment for the approximately 85% of the world that lacks any or reliable cell phone coverage.
The press event included remarks from Iridium CEO Matt Desch; International Maritime Organization Director of Maritime Safety Heike Deggim; International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) Director General Captain Moin Ahmed; MAERSK Master Mariner and Senior Marine Specialist Captain Brian Soberg Petersen and Rescue Coordination Center of New Zealand (RCCNZ) Watch Leader and Senior Search and Rescue Officer David Wilson.
Here's how it works:
Once a vessel holds down the red ‘distress’ button, indicating that it needs assistance, a signal is immediately routed through the Iridium satellite network and delivered in moments to a designated Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). Unique to the Iridium system, this is then followed automatically by a distress phone call, allowing the vessel to immediately speak with the RCC. The RCC then can quickly understand the nature of the emergency, while also alerting nearby vessels and local search and rescue authorities to provide the required immediate assistance.
Iridium started the process to become a GMDSS service provider in 2013 and had to meet several objectives before formally ending what was a decades-long monopoly held by another satellite company. After being recognized by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee to provide GMDSS service, Iridium has worked closely with its regulator, IMSO, to meet all conditions required for service introduction. Aside from technical integrations around the world, this has included the signing of a Public Services Agreement with IMSO in April of 2019, which details the conditions for IMSO to act as regulator and maintain oversight of Iridium's GMDSS services and a Letter of Compliance in December 2019 stating that Iridium was authorized to begin providing service when ready.
Intellian Poised to Deliver OneWeb User Terminals for 2021
Intellian is delighted to announce that it will be commencing the production of a wide range of dedicated user terminals for the global low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications provider OneWeb, ready for delivery in 2021 and beyond.
Looking to 2021, OneWeb is focused on scaling the satellite constellation to begin commercial services starting at the end next year to the UK, Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and the Arctic Seas.
Intellian announced its partnership with OneWeb to build terminals for both the fixed enterprise and maritime markets in 2019 and OneWeb’s keenly-awaited revival enabled the two organiations to recommence their partnership.
Intellian’s agreement with OneWeb encompasses the production of a wide range of dedicated OneWeb user terminal types with a variety of antenna sizes. These terminals are designed to facilitate services and suit customer’s application requirements across various sectors including cellular backhaul, enterprise, rural broadband, telecommunications, telemedecine, schools, hospitals, agriculture, mining, government and maritime, including merchant shipping, oil and gas exploration, leisure or fishing. In addition, this partnership will allow current Intellian customers to utilise existing Intellian NX series terminals by incorporating an option to upgrade them to operate on OneWeb’s LEO constellation in the future.
With multiple product variants designed and extensive testing complete, Intellian is well placed to rapidly deliver a comprehensive range of terminals for the OneWeb constellation. Eric Sung, President and CEO, Intellian, said: “We are excited to deploy Intellian’s industry leading LEO technology into this user terminal development to enable customers to harness OneWeb’s fascinating network capabilities. Testing has shown excellent results and we are fast approaching this technology becoming a reality for users across many market sectors. The OneWeb constellation is a significant development for the industry and for potential users, and its perfectly aligned with our stated commitment of empowering connectivity: through our partnership, our terminals will bring customers high bandwidth, low latency data on an unprecedented global scale.”
OneWeb is rapidly moving forward with building its network, and will launch 36 satellites from the Vostochny spaceport in Siberia in December this year, joining the 74 already in orbit. Initially planned at 648 satellites operating on the Ku-band, the OneWeb constellation has the potential and priority bandwidth allocation to expand many times beyond that size.
Gilat Equips Hundreds of Boats, Vessels and Cruise Ships with Satellite Communication
Petah Tikva, Israel, December 14, 2020 — Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. (NASDAQ, TASE: GILT), a worldwide leader in satellite networking technology, solutions and services, announces that Gilat was selected to equip hundreds of boats, vessels and cruise ships with satellite communication. Gilat’s modems and transceivers successfully deployed on maritime vessels in Asia.
Broadband internet is delivered via maritime terminals that are fully integrated with Gilat’s VSATs and 4W transceivers. An excellent user experience is achieved with Gilat’s SkyEdge II-c X-Architecture operating over China Satcom’s HTS Ka-band network (ChinaSat-16) providing multiple switchovers between the satellite beams.
“This win further solidifies Gilat’s position as a major provider for the maritime market,” said Yuval Ayalon, Head of Maritime and Land Mobility at Gilat. “As the world is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, we expect the maritime market to pick-up and for Gilat to materialize additional opportunities.”
Hot News and Commentary
HawkEye 360 Supporting RF GEOINT Pilot Program for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
HERNDON, Va., December 16, 2020 – HawkEye 360 Inc. is supporting a commercial radio frequency (RF) geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) pilot program for the United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), using its constellation of formation flying satellites to deliver RF data and analytics to the agency and combatant commands so analysts can explore how this new source of commercial data can augment intelligence activities.
“This pilot program is placing our RF signal data and analytics into the hands of end users, so they can leverage this powerful resource to fulfill mission needs,” said John Serafini, Chief Executive Officer, HawkEye 360. “Commercial RF GEOINT complements traditional government systems by offering analysts a readily accessible layer of RF knowledge. The large regions we cover, the range of signals we collect, and the accuracy of our results all contribute to forming a richer analysis.”
The commercial RF collected as part of this effort, is being examined for feasibility in supporting a variety of GEOINT applications, such as tipping and cueing of other data sources to include electro-optical and radar imaging satellites. United States combatant commands are also using the data to improve maritime awareness and cooperation with regional allies through unclassified sharable data and analytics.
The RF GEOINT pilot, which started in September, leverages HawkEye 360’s commercial integration study contract with the National Reconnaissance Office to access commercial RF data that is then integrated into NGA’s Predictive GEOINT Prototype (PGP), which supports an agile development approach for exploring new commercial sources and analytics.
HawkEye 360 is the first company to deliver commercial RF data and analytics using formation flying satellites. HawkEye 360 launched its initial three satellites in December 2018 to globally identify and geolocate a broad range of RF signals. HawkEye 360 is growing the constellation to improve capacity and revisit rate, starting with the planned launch of HawkEye Cluster 2 this January 2021. Cluster 2 provides over four times the collection capacity as Cluster 1.
Vodafone and AST SPACEMOBILE Unveil Launch Plans For Space-Based Mobile Network Initially Reaching 1.6 Billion People
TEXAS, LONDON, JOHANNESBURG – December 16, 2020 – AST SpaceMobile, in partnership with Vodafone Group, today unveiled plans to launch the first phase of its space-based commercial mobile communications service in 2023. The company has secured the necessary funding to take the venture to this next stage, which will cover the 49 largest countries in the equatorial regions.
Vodafone wants to ensure that our customers are always connected and everyone benefits from a digital society. This is why we are a lead, strategic partner of AST SpaceMobile, which is uniquely positioned to provide universal mobile coverage to rural areas in Africa, and in the future, Europe, further extending our leading network. The space-based mobile network will also enable us to provide instant communications in the event of a natural or humanitarian disaster.
AST SpaceMobile will be the first service of its kind to connect standard mobile phones at 4G and 5G speeds using AST SpaceMobile’s patented space-based network. Today, more than five billion mobile subscribers constantly move in and out of wireless coverage, and AST SpaceMobile’s solution will fill these coverage gaps to enable people to stay connected whilst on the move. This is a significant breakthrough in helping to bring affordable mobile connectivity to more than half of the world’s population that do not have internet on their phone. Traditional satellite systems require expensive specialized satellite phones or ground antenna systems, which is different to AST SpaceMobile’s patented technology, where all that is needed is the phone in your pocket.
The first tranche of AST SpaceMobile’s launch plans will involve the use of 20 satellites to offer seamless, low-latency mobile connectivity that can be accessed by approximately 1.6 billion people across a vast geographical region. The initial service will target an area North and South of the equator, including rural and remote areas of a number of markets where Vodafone will integrate the technology into the services provided by its Vodacom, Safaricom and Vodafone brands. Subject to regulatory approval in each market, these will include DRC; Ghana; Mozambique; Kenya; and Tanzania. AST SpaceMobile will also apply for regulatory approval to launch the service in India.
Capella Unveils World’s Highest Resolution Commercial SAR Imagery
December 16, 2020: It has been a little over three months since the launch of our first operational satellite Capella-2 (formerly named Sequoia) and I can tell you that this has been the most exciting three months of our journey after founding Capella only four years ago. We made history with this launch as the first and only American commercial SAR company and we have a lot more history-making announcements coming soon — including this one.
Over the last few months, we have been sharing our 2-meter resolution Strip imagery and it looks fantastic. Most importantly our early adopters, customers, and partners have been providing incredibly positive feedback on our image quality.
Today, I am excited to unveil yet another first for our industry. Capella is now the highest resolution commercial SAR provider in the world, capable of 50 cm x 50 cm resolution imaging.
What are we unveiling today?
We are unveiling the highest resolution commercial SAR imagery available in the market at 50 cm x 50 cm resolution in our new Spotlight or “Spot” imaging mode. Our Spot product is a specialized mode that allows for long exposures over an area of interest (AOI) and results in a beautiful and crystal-clear SAR imagery. This new 50 cm x 50 cm imagery is collected by dwelling our satellites over an AOI for a long period. Think of it as a long exposure on your digital camera when you are trying to collect more light into your sensor. Except we are doing a very long exposure looking at a single location on Earth while traveling at 7.5 km per second in space. Our satellites have been designed with the capability to dwell on a single location for as long as 60 seconds.
Before Capella, other SAR providers could dwell on a single target for only a few seconds with their electronically steered antenna. The addition of more than an order of magnitude of exposure time in comparison to what is currently possible with other systems allows Capella satellites to provide incredibly sharp SAR imagery, which enables easier and more accurate image interpretation and analysis. Prior to Capella, the best resolution on the market was 1 m x 25 cm with non-square pixels which created its own challenges. These previous images were collected with limited bandwidth of 300 MHz where our imagery is collected with up to 500 MHz of bandwidth, with future satellite generations more than doubling that bandwidth at 1.2Ghz for even higher resolution.
This new mode is enabled by our unique satellite design that allows us to mechanically steer our sensor to dwell on a single target for a long duration. Spot mode is supported by the satellite’s extensive imaging capacity which allows us to take many of these long dwell collects throughout each of our orbits. We’ve been able to build such a unique system due to our vertical integration approach between our hardware and software – from our SAR payload, to the ground infrastructure, to the SAR processor, and the satellite hardware that goes with it all.
What does this mean to our customers?
Most importantly this announcement is game-changing because of what it does for our customers. This new imaging mode means our customers can see more and do more with our imagery. Our Spot images are sharper and provide a new depth of insight from highly distinguishable features in each image. For our customers, every clue has the potential to save lives, and this new level of detail introduces hundreds of new clues in each image. While most analysts are accustomed to optical images, we have had customers ask us if our SAR images are actually black and white panchromatic images! We see this as a sign that high quality SAR is elevating the industry and will democratize this fascinating technology.
Why does the world need high resolution SAR data now?
When I started Capella almost four and a half years ago the goal was to build a new tool for humanitarian work and human progress globally. A tool that allows us to monitor our planet in all-weather and in all-light conditions and to do so reliably and transparently. My initial frustration was over the disappearance of the MH370 flight and our inability to locate it – despite decades of investment in Earth observation and tracking technologies. The conclusion was that we need to do better, better in Earth observation, better in tracking things, and better at understanding the planet we live on. Consequently, in order to understand our planet better we need to monitor it more reliably and more frequently.
Looking at the global events of the last four years since we started this journey, I think this capability has never been more needed than today. One of the most recent events that could have used our capability were the millions of acres of the West Coast of the United States that were devastated by wildfires and completely blanketed a third of our country in hazardous opaque smoke. If we can’t see what’s happening around us, we can’t make good decisions. SAR allows us, our first responders, our policy makers, and the world to see. That is critical.
And today with our very high-resolution Spot mode we have brought a new perspective to the world, one that allows non-SAR users to visually utilize SAR imagery better than before.
Hawkeye 360’S Next-Gen Satellites Ship to Cape Canaveral Launch
Herndon, Virginia (December 17, 2020) — HawkEye 360 Inc., the first commercial company to use formation flying satellites to create a new class of radio frequency (RF) data and data analytics, today announced it has shipped its second cluster of satellites to the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellites are scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 no earlier than January 2021 as part of Spaceflight Inc.’s SXRS-3 ride share mission. HawkEye Cluster 2 is the first of a series of next generation satellites HawkEye 360 is deploying to complete its baseline constellation.
“The upcoming launch of HawkEye Cluster 2 firmly establishes HawkEye 360 as the most advanced provider of RF geoanalytics,” said John Serafini, CEO. “These new satellites continue to push the boundaries of commercial RF sensing. Cluster 2 has up to ten times the collection capacity of our current cluster and improved geolocation accuracy. Our customers are asking for more data over more regions, so these next generation satellites are critical to supplying our customers with relevant and timely RF geospatial intelligence for national security, maritime domain awareness, environmental protection, and countless other applications.”
This shipment milestone means that Cluster 2 will soon be joining the company’s Cluster 1 satellites in orbit. The three Cluster 2 satellites are larger and more powerful, able to collect multiple types of signals simultaneously for longer periods of time. These workhorse satellites will allow HawkEye 360 to offer increasingly robust space-based RF data insights to its US government, international government, and commercial customers across a wide range of frequencies.
Each Cluster 2 satellite contains a customized RF payload developed by HawkEye 360. The satellite buses were manufactured by UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory. Beyond Cluster 2, HawkEye 360 is fully financed for the launch of fifteen more satellites in 2021 and early 2022. HawkEye 360 is completing development of satellites for Clusters 3 and 4, anticipating launch in the middle of 2021. Clusters 5, 6, and 7 are in development with anticipated launch over the next 18 months. The average global revisit rate will be less than an hour.
HawkEye 360’s growing constellation identifies and precisely geolocates a broad set of RF signals from emitters such as VHF marine radios, UHF push-to-talk radios, maritime and land-based radar systems, L-band satellite devices, and emergency beacons. HawkEye 360 processes and analyzes this data using proprietary algorithms to deliver actionable insights to customers.
Smallsat News and Ventures
Following the December 4th publication of our editorial on AST Science’s SpaceMobile project, New Providence, a Special Purpose Acquisition Corporation (SPAC), announced on December 16th that it plans to merge with AST & Science to take it public.
After the announcement, four Law firms, Levi and Korinsky, Rigrodsky and Long, Brodsky Smith, and WeissLaw announced investigations into the transaction. In our view, the investigations are justified. To allow AST to enter the public market at this time sets a dangerous precedent.
Despite its exciting promise, in its present state, SpaceMobile is still experimental. Although it has credible seed investors, Vodaphone, Rakuten, American Tower, and Samsung, numerous patents and a PhD employee quorum, the technology remains unproven, and the constellation is yet to be licensed by the FCC.
AST It has yet to demonstrate that it can build, launch and successfully deploy and operate a single giant satellite of its proposed configuration in Space's harsh environment.
Today, the entire venture consists of a largely untested package of theories and assumptions. Given the its current state, New Providence should wait until SpaceMobile is licensed and its theories and patents tested before listing it in the public market. For public investors, we see the following extreme risks. As of today:
Collision risk is unresolved: As proposed, NASA labels AST constellation as a significant collision threat. Flying at an altitude of 720 – 740 Km, it objects to the constellation, claiming it threatens their A-Train satellites, a group of imaging satellites orbiting at a similar altitude that provides vital environmental data. NASA has made recommendations to AST to eliminate the risk, and its objections remain in place pending AST's compliance.
AST has no license: At this writing, the FCC has yet to grant SpaceMobile a license. The mobile frequencies it uses for Space to earth communication are valid for terrestrial use only - not for Space to ground communication. That means the FCC and other nations' regulatory bodies need to grant special licenses - a complex and time-consuming process.
Patent Risk: Lynk, based in Falls Church, VA, another early-stage company, holds patents to connect mobile phones on earth directly to satellites in Space. According to Lynk, closing a link between a cell phone on earth and a satellite in Space requires tricking or “spoofing” the phone into believing that it connects to a nearby cellular tower, not a satellite hundreds of miles above the earth. Unless AST can circumvent Lynk's patents, the threat of litigation exists.
Competition: AST claims it has no competition. In our view, competition is any other alternative that can provide cellular coverage where it does not exist. Not only is Lynk a competitor, but so is satellite backhaul. Satellite backhaul can serve small remote communities at a meager cost by using "mini" base stations. Whether AST can achieve competitive economics is questionable.
Technology Risk: AST’s satellites are an evolution of Abel Avellan's original patent for a “fractionated” satellite, a design in which the satellite is composed of individual modules that float freely in an open formation simulating a single, giant antenna. Unlike the original version, in its current iteration, AST physically connects the modules.
For launch, several satellites are folded and packed into a conventional satellite faring. Once in Space, they are unfolded to form a 450 square meter antenna. There is no assurance that these very thin satellites can survive the G-Forces and vibration of launch.
In the unfolding process, achieving antenna is alignment is critical. At only a few centimeters in thickness and 70 feet across, the temperature extremes in Space may distort the structure knocking it out of alignment. Whether it is rigid enough to maintain its shape is unproven. Heat dissipation is another issue.
Combining the data from numerous independent modules requires huge processing power and generates a significant amount of heat. Given the satellite’s near two-dimensional configuration, the heat would have to radiate out through the antenna infrastructure. While possible, it’s one more aspect of the project that exists only on paper.
Viewed in its entirety, SpaceMobile still faces a nearly unmanageable combination of barriers to its success - regulatory, legal, technical, and financial.
Until the FCC licenses the constellation, NASA's objections are resolved and AST can demonstrate that it can launch a fully- functioning prototype satellite, investors should be limited to corporations, institutions and accredited professional investors who can tolerate extreme risk. While intriguing, at this stage of development, we believe SpaceMobile is still at the venture capital stage of development and should not be allowed to list on a public market.
- Alan Gottlieb
Is AST & Science's SpaceMobil Ready for the NASDAQ?
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SPACs: A New Way to Fund Space-Related Ventures?
An Interview with Chris Quilty, Founder and Principal of Quilty Analytics
Funding pre-revenue space ventures is enormously challenging. Historically, seed funding for such ventures came from major corporations, prime contractors, or government grants. Beginning in the 2010s, the industry gained two new sources of funding, namely billionaire investors and the venture capital industry.
Now, a new financing alternative is becoming increasingly popular for both mature and promising earlier stage companies: the Special Purpose Acquisition Company, or SPAC.
SPACs are not new. They are "blank check" companies that raise millions of dollars with the intent to identify and acquire a suitable acquisition candidate. Offering a shortened and less complex route to the public market than an IPO, they have become a viable alternative for Space-related ventures.
To find out more about how these unique investment vehicles are employed, we met with Chris Quilty, the Founder and Partner of Quilty Analytics, a well-known Space-focused investment firm.
SMW: Can you give us a brief overview of Quilty Analytics and your recent activities in the satellite sector?
Quilty Analytics is an integrated and fast-growing boutique focused on research, strategy, and investment banking advisory exclusively for the Satellite & Space industry. Our senior team has been covering the full landscape of the Satellite & Space ecosystem for well over a decade, previously at Raymond James before Quilty Analytic's launch.
Our specialization and our breadth of relationships in the sector make us an attractive option for clients seeking unique insight and analysis or M&A advice. We’ve been involved in dozens of related transactions and have served hundreds of clients with sector-focused research, strategy, and M&A advisory services.
SMW: SPACs have been around for a long time. Why are they suddenly more popular? Is it a result of IPO uncertainty associated with COVID, or are there other factors?
Special Purpose Investment Companies (SPACs) were also quite popular in the 2006-2007 time-frame before the financial crisis shut down public fundraising and M&A activity.
A (SPAC) is a company with no commercial operations that raises capital through an initial public offering (IPO) with the purpose of identifying and acquiring an existing company.
SPAC activity is even more heated this time around. We attribute their popularity to five main factors:
SPACs have had some high-profile successes in recent years, making it easier for a range of sponsors to form a SPAC and take it public successfully.
In a near-zero interest rate environment, investors are seeking opportunities for high returns.
They offer institutional investors an alternative investment vehicle with attractive options.
The SPAC investor can vote to redeem their shares and get their money back if they don’t like the M&A deal, or if the SPAC is unsuccessful in completing a deal, which in many scenarios means it is no worse than putting the money in the bank.
A SPAC is an attractive economic vehicle. If the sponsors successful identify and close on an M&A target, there’s ample evidence that their economic stakes often appreciate considerably.
Finally, companies are finding that they can capture increasingly attractive valuations and terms in a SPAC merger, due to the limited number of acquisition candidates available.
SMW: Space transportation companies Momentus and Virgin Galactic have relied on SPACs to reach the public market. Can you tell us why a SPAC may be well-suited to high-risk space ventures vs. an IPO?
Going the traditional IPO route involves more stringent regulatory requirements, more time, and a greater investment than a SPAC merger.
The IPO route is also challenging for pre-revenue companies. Since the late 1990s, we haven’t seen pre-revenue companies going public via IPOs except in isolated cases like in Biotech. The market also seems to be a bit more accepting of pre-revenue companies going public via the SPAC route.
Once a company is public, over time, and in the end, the requirements for success are still the same. It comes down to successful execution and day-to-day blocking-and-tackling such as proper financial reporting, managing investor relations and Street expectations, etc.
The same considerations are highly relevant regardless of whether a company went public via a SPAC or traditional IPO. Over the long run, these companies will still be measured against the same goalposts.
SMW: For companies seeking to raise capital in public markets, the SPAC process has specific advantages, including certainty of the acquisition price, speed vs. a traditional IPO, and sponsor expertise. In your view, which of these advantages is most important?
We would put closing certainty at or near the top of the list. Many sellers also think that maximizing valuation is another important factor.
While valuation is important, unless the seller is getting 100% cash-out upon the close of the deal, a difference of say 10% in the notional valuation won’t matter much in the end from a dilution standpoint –it’s just not all that material particularly given that the public equity markets will ultimately judge the deal and ascribe value.
As I mentioned previously, a quality company could secure a high valuation in a highly competitive SPAC marketplace, especially from SPACs nearing the end of their two-year life. (recall that if the sponsors don't identify and close an acquisition within the allotted time, they have to return the capital to the investors).
SMW: What are the downsides for the company? Don’t the sponsors get a potentially large share of the target company for a nominal investment? So, isn’t the company paying a high price for accelerated time to market? Are there other disadvantages?
The SPAC sponsor can get a substantial share of the company, and this is indeed one cost of a SPAC deal that is fairly unique to the SPAC structure.
However, the share size depends on the situation – for example, the size of the SPAC relative to the size of the Private Investment In Public Equity (PIPE) deal.
Private Investment In Public Equity (PIPE) is when an institutional or an accredited investor buys stock directly from a public company below market price. a PIPE is used to supplement the initial capital and compensate for the loss of capital if some of the original institutional investors decline to participate after the SPAC's target is announced.
Due to the uncertainty of the deal structure until the acquisition closes, many funds simply cannot or will not invest in a SPAC or the PIPE, which reduces the investor universe somewhat.
For these and other reasons, we are still seeing high-flying Silicon Valley companies go public via the traditional route – for example, Airbnb’s IPO and a host of other “hot” 2020 IPOs.
SMW: I understand that the SPAC’s target company also needs to gain approval from regulators. To secure it, doesn’t the target company have to go through the same regulatory hurdles as one going public through the use of an IPO? What criteria must a Space venture meet to be approved by regulators?
There are parallel but different regulatory approvals associated with a SPAC process. The SEC vetting process for an IPO is a bit more rigorous in our view, but in a SPAC, too, the SEC is heavily involved. The SEC reviews the SPAC’s “blank check company” IPO, but that part of the process is inherently less onerous given that the SPAC is not an operating company.
Importantly, the SEC has a 30-day review and comment period for the SPAC merger proxy once filed when an M&A deal is announced. Here the process is fairly rigorous, although it happens much faster than a typical IPO.
Depending on the transaction structure, the deal may also be subject to other regulatory approvals more similar to an M&A transaction than an IPO.
Finally, while it is not technically a regulatory approval, a successful SPAC shareholder vote is required to complete the deal. The shareholders don’t have a say in the deal terms other than through their vote.
This differs of course, from an IPO where if investors don’t like the deal, the IPO doesn’t get priced at all, the price is below the underwriters’ proposed valuation range.
SMW: My understanding is that a SPAC can begin a search for an acquisition target after it goes public. However, why would an investor form a SPAC if they don’t have a specific target company or companies? As we know, good deals are hard to find, especially in a small industry like Space.
It’s all about the money – the SPAC sponsors invest their time and money to launch the SPAC, and if they are successful in closing on a target, history suggests that they can earn pretty sizable returns.
SMW: SPACs must find an acquisition partner within a specified time, usually two years. As the SPAC nears the end of its lifetime, aren’t its sponsors under significant pressure to find a suitable acquisition candidate? Assuming that’s true, doesn’t the use of SPAC’s promote the acquisition of risky and unproven business models and technologies?
Indeed, SPACs nearing the end of their lives are increasingly incentivized to do a deal to avoid their sponsors’ investment “going to zero.” This can impact deal selection and may lead to more aggressive deal terms, but on the other hand, there are some governors in the process.
For one thing, in general, a SPAC deal has a concurrent PIPE. The PIPE investors presumably won’t commit to a deal that’s simply a “bad” deal because they don’t enjoy the same incentives as the SPAC institutional shareholders who, in the end, must vote on the deal and can vote no or redeem their shares.
SMW: There were many high-profile SPAC failures in 2008. What were the causes? Was the recent failure of Nikola a result of weak regulation and rush to market, or were there other factors.
The following factors created some of the bad SPAC performance and press in the last go-round:
The SPAC 1.0 structures were very unfriendly to investors, and many retail investors got burned. The severe warrant overhang and other structural features made it very hard to generate attractive post-deal stock performance in the months that followed the deal’s close.
Some of the M&A targets were exceptionally poor – this is always a risk in any market environment
The 2008 financial crisis put a nail in the SPAC 1.0 coffin
Today’s SPAC structure is a bit more investor-friendly than the previous generation of SPACs from the 2006-2007 time-frame, including less onerous warrant overhang. Bear in mind that SPACs have yielded spectacular successes and failures over the past decade, and likewise, we expect a mix of outcomes amongst the current crop of SPACs. A similar statement could be made of traditional IPOs.
One of the last generation’s SPACs, Iridium is in our sector and took a while to see success in the public equity markets. However, over the last decade, its stock has gone from $10 to ~$37. It shows that success is ultimately mostly dependent on the company.
SMW: SPACs look like a good deal for the institutional investor. They invest in the SPAC before it goes public, receive warrants, bail out, and get their money back if they don’t like the acquisition target or if the SAPC cannot locate one. Are there any downsides at all for the institutional investor?
Yes – even those early institutional investors in the SPAC IPO can take a hit.
I wouldn’t call them downsides so much as risks, as with virtually any other investment class. They earn a zero return on their investment if the SPAC does not close a deal and they redeem their shares, which would not be a success in their book.
While the warrants offer some potential value, if the stock goes nowhere or collapses, the warrants are essentially worthless.
SMW: Are there any advantages at all for the retail investor? It looks like they bear all the risk with a very low probability of a reward.
It’s very situational dependent. If they are buying a quality company, there can be a very attractive risk-reward. If they are buying an unattractive company, it’s a high risk. Like any investment, the retail investor should understand what they are buying, do their homework, and understand the risk-reward profile.
SMW: How do companies interested in using a SPAC locate a SPAC partner? Does the company need to hire an investment firm to identify a suitable SPAC partner? Can you enumerate the steps involved in the process?
There are many SPACs in the market and not all are created equal. We strongly encourage companies interested in exploring SPAC options to have an informed adviser.
As a starting point, the potentially interested company should make sure that they are in a position to be public within the next 6 months – this means having a defined and differentiated business strategy, an appropriate financial trajectory and growth profile, audited financials, etc.
We strongly advise interested companies to understand their readiness and then select an appropriate strategy, with a SPAC or otherwise. We’d be happy to share our insights on key SPAC-related considerations with companies that have an interest in learning more.
"The IPO route is also very difficult for pre-revenue companies. Since the late 1990s, we haven’t seen pre-revenue companies going public via IPOs except in isolated cases like in Biotech, for example. The market seems to be a bit more accepting of pre-revenue companies going public via the SPAC route."
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About Chris Quilty:
Chris Quilty is the founder and a partner of Quilty Analytics. Prior to establishing Quilty Analytics in 2016, Chris served as a sell side research analyst with Raymond James for 20 years, publishing hundreds of company-specific, macro, sector, and thematic research reports on the industrial, defense, space, wireless, and communications industries.
Chris is widely acknowledged as a thought leader in Satellite & Space ecosystem. Chris received a BS degree in Systems Engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 1989 and an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1994.
Smartsky: Innovative ATG Provider Readying for Takeoff
An Interview with Newly Appointed CEO, David Helfgott
2021 is shaping up as a hugely significant year for aviation connectivity. Smartsky's new, ultra-high-speed air-to-ground (ATG) service is about to have a major impact on business and commercial jet markets.
For jets operating over the lower 48 states, and those traversing U.S. land routes as part of international journeys, Smartsky's new ATG service offers multi-MBPS speeds at half the operating and a fraction of the hardware costs of a satellite-based service.
To find out more about SmartSky's disruptive new service, its performance, and attractive economics, we met with David Helfgott, Smartsky's recently appointed new CEO.
SMW: SmartSky has taken longer than expected to get its network up and running. Can you tell us about what has caused the delays, when it will be up and running, and the coverage areas?
About two months ago, I joined SmartSky to lead the finalization and commercial launch of its market-redefining broadband air-to-ground (ATG) network service.
Our goal is to make the promise of the "connected aircraft" a reality.
To achieve this, using our advanced beamforming network and uniquely optimized hardware, we will connect thousands of Business, General, and Commercial Aviation aircraft.
Already, an enormous amount of work has been completed. Our nationwide towers, terrestrial network, data centers, and NOC are nearing completion, and aircraft communications hardware (airborne radios and blade antennas) will soon be available for installation. We are on the proverbial 10-yard line.
Unfortunately, COVID has impacted the aviation industry in general and our schedule. In addition, we experienced delays due to a dispute with one of our contractors and have successfully transferred their work to new experienced, reliable contractors. As a result, our program is now on schedule for a launch this summer.
At that time, we expect the network will span coast-to-coast and cover over 90% of all continental U.S. flight hours. By the end of 2021, we plan to "light up" the remaining towers needed to cover the full continental U.S. footprint.
SMW: What is the financial impact of the delay? I understand you are in the process of raising more capital. How much has SmartSky raised so far, and how much more do you need? Where are you in the process, and how is it going?
SmartSky has raised approximately $400 million since inception with very strong, highly supportive institutional investors like Blackrock, W.P. Global, Platform Partners, Tiger Infrastructure, Meritage, and others. Due to regulatory restrictions, we cannot comment on current fundraising activities.
SMW: You mentioned to us that your initial target market is mid-size and larger business jets. In a market of around 17,000 aircraft, Gogo has 6,500 planes, some of which are already using its new 4G service, Avance L5. How does the SmartSky service compare?
Our initial target market for our Flagship product is the mid-size and larger business jets segment. Following that, SmartSky Networks ' LiTE product is targeted to the underserved and unserved Light Jet and Turbo Prop markets. It consists of an Aircraft Based Radio (ABR) and a single Full-Duplex Quad (FDQ) Blade Antenna working with our partner's onboard cabin WiFi hub.
Both Flagship and LiTE product-served aircraft will enjoy the same powerful connectivity, “office in the air” and application-enabling benefits of SmartSky’s ATG network.
Through the use of our unique IP, 60 MHz of unlicensed spectrum, and a mix of 4G LTE and 5G technologies, will deliver a highly compelling user experience - a feat we’ve already demonstrated to our many partners, customers, and the media.
Because our competitor doesn’t have access to our IP, that means they have to "fall back" on their frustratingly slow 3G legacy network when flying over urban areas - roughly 25% of routes. The "fall back" also has an embedded cybersecurity risk given the widespread use of ZTE equipment in their legacy system.
I want to be very clear: the patent issue IS the issue. Our competitor already lost decisively at the USPTO this past summer. Given their failed patent challenge, it seems inconceivable that they were to willfully and knowingly violate our IP, especially after the recent USPTO ruling. Given Smartsky's commitment to defend its patents, I cannot imagine that Gogo’s Board or investors would be pleased if Gogo management were to willfully and knowingly violate our IPR, especially after the recent USPTO ruling.
SMW: Gogo has already saturated a large portion of the mid-sized business jet market. They have recently sold their money-losing commercial airlines business to Intelsat for $400 million, a sale that has resulted in a significant improvement in their balance sheet. Given their entrenchment in the market and their improved financial position, how will you and your network of resellers, some of which already sell Gogo, convince Gogo’s customers to switch to SmartSky?
Today, bi-directional high-speed, low latency connectivity services don't exist in the business jet market. The market for high performance ”office-grade” IFC is wide open, which is what SmartSky will offer. It's little wonder that the market is eagerly awaiting the launch of our new service.
I may be dating myself, but the way you describe our competitor reminded me of AOL a couple of decades ago.
At that time, AOL had a large market position and cash. They “snail-mail “ marketed to every home in the U.S., offering cheap dial-up access to the Internet.
When a superior high-speed access offering became available, nearly everyone sprinted towards the more compelling, high-performance service at historical adoption rates. And the applications ecosystem that was enabled by true-broadband flourished.
You should consider the move from the legacy incumbent ATG service to SmartSky as a similar transition.
SMW: SmartSky has developed SkytelligenceTM and SmoothSkyTM. SmoothSkyTM appears to be a value-add to the SmartSky IFC platform, and SkytelligenceTM is a platform that provides developers of aero applications with a consolidated library of aviation data. Can you tell us more about these applications?
Think of the SmartSky Networks offering as three inter-related and reinforcing aviation Inflight Communications (IFC) products/services:
Broadband Inflight Communications Services – the only high bandwidth, low-latency, full-duplex, reliable inflight communications service
Hardware: Our FAA certified service-enabling equipment including antennas and onboard communications kit
Digital Solutions SkytelligenceTM – an aviation information, applications & services ecosystem to usher in the age of the “connected aircraft”
We developed the SkytelligenceTM platform for the Application Layer, to create/provide a trusted data and application services exchange. SkytelligenceTM empowers developers and facilitates the distribution of their applications. In fact, others create most of the applications and data offered through the platform.
For example, we launched SmoothSkyTM in collaboration with IATA. It represents a great success for trusted information exchange among the aviation ecosystem – taking turbulence data from commercial aviation and sharing it with business aviation to improve safety, efficiency, and the flying experience.
SMW: I understand that you have developed a reseller network. Can you tell us about it?
Of course. Our channel partnerships are an essential element of our plans. Smartsky partner companies include Duncan Aviation, Pentastar, Standard Aero, with more to be announced later this year.
For inflight communications services, aircraft operators/owners can work with Satcom Direct and we intend to announce others in the near future.
Aircraft owners and fleet operators communications can also purchase their hardware and have it installed through several leading business jet OEMs or factory service centers, along with many leading Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) companies.
SMW: Gogo is incorporating a relatively robust entertainment system into their Avance product line. Does SmartSky plan to offer IFE? How important is it to provide IFE to the business jet market?
Given the performance profile of our network, IFE and stored content isn’t as critical an issue. We offer open IFE by making our system compatible with industry solutions and let customers choose what’s right for them. As an example, we’ve shown that IFE like the FDS Avionics Do CapsuleTM is compatible with SmartSky.
SMW: As we know, except for the largest business jets, which have tail-mounted antennas, satellite broadband is unavailable due to the lack of an affordable aero antenna, making ATG the only alternative. However, it’s a near certainty that in the next 3-5 years, a light- weight and cost-competitive phased array will emerge along with the LEOs, which also offer low-latency. Do you believe ATG can still maintain a cost advantage in the business jet market in that environment?
I have a bit of insight into this subject.
Meeting wideband performance expectations and conforming to regulatory requirements makes SATCOM-to-aircraft challenging, especially for smaller aircraft. Balancing the antenna size, effective aperture, antenna efficiency, weight, drag, power, heat, and reliability, with look-angle, antenna roll-off, beam hand-offs, bandwidth cost, and the cost of equipment and installation (and certification) is never easy. It often leads to compromises that ultimately result in an expensive system with less than optimal performance.
However, there are use-cases and flight routes that require SATCOM for connectivity, most notably commercial polar routes and over-ocean routes. In these cases, SATCOM is the best (and only) choice.
Ultimately, we believe that satellite and ATG can be complementary in many cases. On international-route double-aisle aircraft connectivity, we see broadband ATG and SATCOM working together, each providing benefit at different stages of the flight.
For smaller aircraft, especially in business aviation, the cost of service, installation and equipment, and the low-latency, symmetrical/duplex, broadband user experience will make SmartSky’s offering hard to beat.
SMW: What are your plans to expand beyond the U.S. market? Will Canada and Mexico be next? Is there enough business jet traffic in those countries to justify the infrastructure investment?
In 2021, job #1 is to launch our US ATG network service. Once completed, we can turn our attention to other markets and international ATG expansion.
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"We have 195 granted patents already in this area, with a further 131 pending….I cannot imagine that Gogo’s Board or investors were to willfully and knowingly violate our IP, especially after the recent USPTO ruling."
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About Dave Helfgott
As Chief Executive Officer of SmartSky Networks (SSN), David Helfgott has responsibility for the company’s strategic direction, to drive the completion, launch and expansion of its ground-breaking broadband Air-to-Ground (ATG) network, and to implement its product development and operational programs, serving the growing connectivity needs of business, general and commercial aviation markets
As a 20+ year industry veteran, he has extensive experience in airborne communications, satellite broadband, mobile telecommunications and commercial & government SATCOM networking services.
Mr Helfgott has held leadership positions at Phasor, Inmarsat, Cobham, DataPath and SES. He holds a BA Degree from the University of Virginia and an MBA from the Darden School.
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Kymeta is unique. In the world of flat panel antennas, it did what no other developer has done before: it developed, manufactured, and sold an economically viable flat panel antenna. That is a stunning accomplishment. Despite millions of development dollars expended by legions of competitors, Kymeta’s u7 stands alone.
Since its introduction, the company has learned a lot. It’s listened to its customers, heeded their recommendations, and made significant improvements to the antenna’s initial design. The result is the u8, its new next-generation terminal.
A New Antenna:
According to Lilac Muller, V.P. of Product Management, the u8 has “improved efficiency across the board.” While only slightly larger than the u7 (+7 cm increased diameter), the u8 delivers a significantly improved performance. Maximum G/T has increased from 9.5 dB/K to 11.5 dB/K while terminal steady state power draw was reduced to 150 watts. The u8 can now function within a temperature range of –40 c to + 55 c plus full solar load, making it suitable for use in extreme climates.
Kymeta engineers have also minimized the impact of scan loss, which is characteristic of all electronically steered antennas. Ms. Muller notes that this is extremely important in mobility applications, since most of the time, the antenna will be operating off bore-site.
For example, in land-mobility trials conducted in the U.K. at 50 degrees north latitude, the u8 terminal delivered speeds of 45.3 Mbps. Had the terminal been at the equator, throughput would have surpassed 74 Mbps.
Other notable improvements include integrating the Antenna Control Unit and Power Supply into the antenna and the embedding of the satellite modem and SD-WAN card into the terminal. The SD-WAN card provides an integrated cellular modem supporting two SIM card slots, a router, and a Wi-Fi bubble. These design enhancements reflect the company's objective to build a simple, plug and play device for non-technical users.
A New Marketing Strategy:
Known initially for its attempt to address a mass-market for extremely low-cost flat panel antennas for the automotive industry, the company has “flipped” its market strategy. Instead of targeting high-volume opportunities, it’s initially focusing on smaller high-value enterprise and government markets.
Advancing market by market, it's building the volume necessary to reduce costs. Ms. Muller describes the strategy as “moving down a pyramid” with the ultimate goal of penetrating larger commercial markets – many of which have not used satellite.
That’s why Kymeta designed the u8 to be very versatile and consumer-friendly. It can be easily set up and used by anyone and can even be mounted on top of SUVs, trucks and smaller vehicles.
The company has also released a tablet app, Kymeta Access, currently available on iOS and Android platforms, making it even easier to control the antenna. A smartphone version is in the works. Finally, incorporating Wi-Fi capability and a cellular modem makes the u8 a compelling choice in several new markets.
A Choice of Pricing Plans:
While there is interest in many segments for a highly mobile flat panel antenna, purchased outright, it’s a significant CAPEX investment. Besides, in a “stand alone” purchase, the customer has to lease bandwidth capacity and build their service – definitely a process reserved for the most sophisticated users.
To reach broader markets and overcome the cost barrier to entry, Kymeta now offers Kymeta Connect, a fully bundled service combining antenna and bandwidth. With it, customers can experience the ease of a plug and play system without CAPEX.
Under the Kymeta Connect plan, prices start at $999 per month and include 1 Gigabyte of data per month with additional “buckets” of data available, if needed. Users also enjoy global coverage from various satellite providers, making it an attractive option for high-value enterprise markets.
Through its unique combination of features and versatile pricing plans, Kymeta has penetrated several key markets, including First Responders and the military. While both segments use cellular connectivity, the need for always-available service is critical. Where cellular operates, the u8 serves as a backup, automatically providing high bandwidth capacity when cellular connectivity is not available, making the antenna invaluable in Fire and Rescue and Disaster Recovery applications. The military is also a key target market.
In that market, large military vehicles, remote command posts, and cellular gateways offer potential opportunities. Here, the u8 antenna provides quick and easy deployment vs. the use of conventional dish antennas. The company sells to the military and government through its Lepton Systems subsidiary.
Initially a Kymeta re-seller and integrator, Lepton offered the Kymeta antenna with bandwidth from several satellite capacity providers in order to facilitate global coverage.
Kymeta has since acquired Lepton, and through its accommodative pricing plans, expects to capture a significant position in military markets, both U.S. and foreign. The military has already acquired Kymeta antennas either through stand-alone purchase or through the Kymeta Connect option. As it starts to rely on LEO constellations, the ability to track multiple moving satellites will become critical, driving the demand for electronically steered antennas with multiple beam capabilities.
As volume grows in high-end enterprise and government markets and Kymeta makes further strides in virtual integration of modems and transceivers, the antenna’s price should fall, enabling it to move into more price-sensitive markets.
According to Ms. Muller, target markets could soon include maritime (near-shore), trains, and other land mobility applications. Driven by the COVID crisis, the shift to remote workers will foster increased demand for efficient and easy to deploy satellite connectivity.
While we may never see a $200 antenna deployed in volumes of millions, relying on an innovative new antenna, evolving technology, and flexible pricing, Kymeta has created a new world of opportunity for itself.
With Product and Strategy Renewed, Kymeta Surges Ahead
The Settings screen allows users to customize their app experience. In keeping with theme of intuitive access to information, this screen is called by tapping on the satellite element in the lower left of the heads-up display. This shows all key information about the satellite network, the antenna, and the satellite modem. This image also depicts the applications “Night mode”.
This image shows the initial dashboard of the Kymeta Access application. On the left half of the screen is the heads-up display which shows key real time technical information about the terminal and its connectivity state. This shows where the satellite beam is pointing relative to the vehicle as well as the signal levels and hardware status for both the satellite and cellular connections. The right half shows a user workspace. By default, this is a map which shows the vehicle position.
"Instead of targeting high-volume mass-market opportunities, it’s initially targeting smaller high-value enterprise and government markets, thereby building volume and ultimately reducing costs. Ms. Muller describes the strategy as “moving down a pyramid” with the ultimate goal of penetrating larger commercial markets – many of which have not used satellite. "
For Further Information
Lilac Muller is the VP of Product Management at Kymeta Corporation, joining the company in early 2018. She oversees product strategy, definition, and launch activities and was instrumental in the productization of the u8 platform.
Lilac has over 20 years of product development experience in the consumer electronics, medical devices, and telecommunication industries where she has led cradle-to-grave product development efforts with a focus on performance, quality, cost and customer experience. She holds 19 U.S. patents, most of them in the field of MEMS-based switching in fiber optic networks.
Lilac has a bachelor's and master’s degrees in Aeronautics/Astronautics from MIT and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from U.C. Berkeley.
In the race to provide ultra-high-speed connectivity, Comtech EF Data continues to maintain a commanding market position, especially in Cruise, mobile backhaul, and demanding government markets.
To find out how Comtech maintains a lead in these high-demand markets and how it plans to handle the future demand for higher and higher network performance levels, we met with David Burr, Vice President Business Development for Comtech EF Data.
SMW: The need for ultra-high-speed connectivity is accelerating in many industries. Cruise, Oil and Gas, and Mining are using more bandwidth than ever before. What are the most significant advancements in its delivery, and in the future, how will hub and modem infrastructure providers enhance their infrastructure to meet the demand for higher and higher speeds?
David Burr (DB): High-speed capability is one of Comtech EF Data’s core competencies, which accounts for our leading positions in cruise, energy and cellular backhaul markets.
As efficiency becomes more important and bandwidth increases, we are investing in research and development to enable higher speed waveforms and advanced chipsets.
For example, for SCPC links, we feature DoubleTalk® Carrier-in-Carrier® technology, allowing satellite users to realize spectral efficiencies (i.e.,BPS/Hz) that are unachievable with traditional links.
Incorporated into our modems, DoubleTalk Carrier-in-Carrier, allows transmit and receive carriers of a duplex link to share the same transponder space, essentially “stacking” the transmit and receive carriers onto the same frequency. This technique minimizes the amount of MHz required to support the same data rate, which reduces capacity costs. When used with 16-QAM, it approaches the bandwidth efficiency of 256-QAM (8 BPS/Hz).
Heights H-Plus is our “workhorse” remote gateway for maritime, and energy applications, and Heights Pro our ultra-high-speed platform, is ideal for Cruise and mobile backhaul applications.
Both Heights remote gateways deliver ultra-high-speed connectivity and offer a dynamic SCPC option (H-DNA) for the return link. To maximize QoS, customers can also “tag” their traffic at Layer 2, Layer 3 or at MPLS, which allows for the shaping and prioritization of traffic. The Heights Plus delivers up to 100 Mbps X 40 Mbps and the Heights Pro, 250 Mbps X 200 Mbps.
Heights' improved performance has resulted in many of our customers upgrading from legacy TDMA systems, and they find that the bandwidth savings alone more than pay for the cost of the upgrades. In the future, we will continue to optimize existing processes to support higher data rates for applications like IoT and Cloud computing.
SMW: Satellite capacity is currently available from MEOs, and GEOs and will soon be available from LEOs. Multiple antenna installations with supporting dual or tri-band frequencies will result in a considerable increase in available bandwidth. Channel Bonding will be possible in high demand markets such as Cruise. Do Comtech Heights modems currently support channel bonding?
(DB): There are two parts to this question. Multi-band antennas minimize the amount of real estate required to support multiple frequency bands.
For example, when Intellian introduced their Tri-Band Antenna, we worked with them to add commands into Comtech Heights to support switching frequency bands, enabling us to control the roaming, depending on location. We are also working with Orbit to implement the same functionality with their dual-band antennas.
With data rates going up, in many cases, the data rate required for a single vessel is more than you can get from a single transponder. 120 Mbps X 80 Mbps is becoming the standard for larger Cruise vessels. So, it’s necessary to spread the capacity across multiple transponders. We call that feature Channel Bonding.
It's a feature we implemented for Cruise customers and can work on the same satellite or with different satellites. We have integrated Channel Bonding plus roaming into our Heights remote gateways to support our Cruise customers. It can work on the same satellite or with different satellites.
SMW: Kymeta is interested in eliminating the modem hardware component. Is virtualization possible with Heights now or in the near future?
(DB): I don’t see modem hardware going away. However, we are working with Kymeta to integrate our modem card inside of their terminal. It’s more of a case where the modem is hidden rather than eliminated.
Regarding virtualization, we have seen a different direction. We have added computing resources inside our Heights H-Plus modem, which allows our customers to run their own applications inside the modem – for example, virtual routers, firewall, or Wireshark to help them troubleshoot. Virtualization eliminates the need for additional external hardware – a valuable differentiating feature for our modems.
SMW: Software-defined modems are becoming more popular, allowing for modification and upgrade of modem capabilities through over-the-air firmware upgrades. Are Comtech Heights modems software-defined?
(DB): Our SLM 5650 A and B modems are software-defined. It's an essential feature for our military customers who may need to change the modem’s personality.
Depending on the country, different networks might run on different standards, interfaces and types of encryption. So, changing the personality of the modem on the fly is important
On the commercial side, the modems are software upgradeable over the air. However, it’s less important for commercial customers to change modem personalities, but they still want to keep up with the latest features and functionalities via updates.
SMW: Satellite operators and integrators often want to modify a modem’s beam switching logic to adjust to vessel itineraries, weather, or customer preferences. Is this capability a significant advancement, and if so, has Comtech embodies this flexibility in its modems?
(DB): We have a Mobility Manager and have had it for fifteen years. Most customers run it in automatic mode with the network managing the beam roaming choices.
However, we offer an API with which customers can manually override the automatic function. It's useful to accommodate unusual vessel itineraries when it's necessary to manually force vessels into the next beam to relieve congestion. Typically, this occurs proactively and is done in the customer's NOC.
SMW: The cruise industry employs various technologies to maximize bandwidth, including the use of C-Band, Ku-Band and Ka-Band and GEOs and MEOs. I understand SES is using a combination of GEOs and O3b MEOs and is serving around 30 vessels. What are the significant advantages of the GEO-MEO approach vs. all GEO? How do Comtech modems facilitate the operation of these multi-satellite networks?
(DB): We have been working with O3b since the beginning, and our modems have completed four or five million live MEO-GEO satellite handovers.
Customers love the O3b solution because it’s a high performance and high data rate solution. However, with the current constellation, the coverage is limited. So, you need GEO to provide coverage for longer routes outside of the MEO coverage.
As the vessel transitions from MEO to GEO coverage, our system automatically switches to GEO. Switching can also occur when Rain Fade makes Ka-Band inaccessible and necessitates a switch to C-band.
As vessels sail various global routes and encounter changing weather conditions, it makes sense for them to invest in a system that supports multiple Bands and multiple orbits. It also gives them a future-proof option.
SMW: Other Hub and modem infrastructure providers are working to incorporate 5G protocols into their products. In particular, one manufacturer is upgrading their modem to enable it to emulate a 5G base station, thereby allowing for content to be multi-cast directly to the end-user. Is Comtech also involved in 5G integration and, if so, how?
(DB): We have been a leader in mobile backhaul for more than a decade, and we have already worked with a number of our customers on 5G trials and proof of concepts.
In 5G networks, just like 3G and 4G, you have subscribers connecting to base stations, which connect into the core network. 5G protocol on the backhaul links is very similar to 4G, enabling us to support both protocols.
We see that backhaul from the base station to the core network is a much bigger market for satellite than connecting directly to the subscribers, and don’t see 4G, 3G, or 2G going away anytime soon. As 5G networks extend to rural areas, backhaul is going to be the dominant application.
SMW: Today, the satellite modem market is relatively small. However, LEO satellite constellations will deliver the Internet to hundreds of millions of end-users, creating huge demand for satellite modems. How will modems evolve to meet the needs of a mass-market?
(DB): Today on GEO, you have different operators supporting different applications. You have operators going direct to end users and others focusing on mobile backhaul, Trunking or government. That’s where we focus and will continuing to innovate.
In LEO, the markets will be similar. These high-end markets are capable of supporting modems priced in the $2000 and above price range. The consumer market is different. Frankly, to build an antenna and modem for a low-cost LEO satellite terminal will be very challenging.
SMW: Steve Collar, SES CEO, speaks about eliminating the “walled garden” that limits network interoperability. Hub and modem infrastructure are still relatively incompatible. Do you see the industry moving toward standards that will allow roaming between dissimilar networks? Are the barriers technical or competitive?
(DB):I think it’s a question of what outcome customers are trying to achieve and if standards help. Our industry tried open standards several years ago with DVB-RCS, and they failed. Customers wanted better networks and the effect of standardization was to slow down innovation. Individual companies with proprietary standards were able to innovate faster and provide better networks. It's about creating an incentive and encouraging innovation.
With David Burr, V.P. Business Development for Comtech EF Data
The Race to Ultra-High-Speed Connectivity
About David Burr
David is Vice President, Business Development for Comtech EF Data where he develops strategies and applications to address the maritime and satellite operator market verticals.
Burr is passionate about the role of efficiency and its application to satellite communications technology and business models.
As a 30-year veteran of the satellite communications industry, he previously served in various Product Management, Sales Engineering and Project Management roles at SES, O3b, New Skies, Polarsat, Comstream and GTE.
Burr holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University.
For More Information...
There are many mobility related satellite industry events, most of which have gone virtual or been postponed due to COVID 19. At the moment, the only "live" shows/conferences in the immediate future are PTC in Hawaii and Sat 2021.
****RESCHEDULED: Asia Pacific Maritime: Singapore: Live Show 16-18 March 2022:
Biggest maritime show in Asia.
*****SeaTrade Cruise Global, Miami: RESCHEDULED: 12-15 April 2021: The Cruise Industry is a huge user of VSAT services. making this show an important venue. It should not be missed - an important event for satellite service suppliers.
****Global Connected Aircraft: RESCHEDULED
June 2-3, 2021 Denver: A popular conference address in commercial aircraft connectivity.
****SMM: Hamburg, Germany' RESCHEDULED February 2-5 2021: A must attend for those interested in VSAT use in the cargo segments.
*** PTC 2021: Honolulu, Hawaii: January 17-21, 2021
Notable gathering of Pacific and Asian companies . NOW VIRTUAL.
**** Satellite 2021: Washington D.C.: RESCHEDULED: July 26-29, 2021 The year's most important Trade Show/Conference Event. Great for an industry overview. Many good break away sessions on specific topics.
Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events
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