Speedcast Buying Maritime Communications Provider SAIT

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PARIS — Mobile satellite communications services provider SpeedCast International on July 28 said it is purchasing SAIT Communications of Greece and Cyprus, a maritime communications provider with a 2,500-ship customer base.

The acquisition is the latest example in a long-expected consolidation among mobile satellite services providers now that both the aeronautical and maritime sectors appear to be poised for rapid growth.

Earlier this year Emerging Markets Communications (EMC) of Florida purchased maritime communications provider MTN Communications, also of Florida, and Panasonic Avionics, up to now focused on aeronautical communications, purchased maritime communications provider ITC Global of Houston.

Panasonic has purchased Ku-band satellite capacity that covers the world’s main aeronautical routes and by extension the major sea lanes as well. EMC has an existing C- and Ku-band satellite network focused on the continental land masses and coastal areas, plus Ka-band capacity being introduced this year.

In a presentation to investors, Hong Kong-based SpeedCast said it is buying SAIT Communications for $14.2 million, all but $400,000 of it in cash with the rest in SpeedCast stock, which is traded on the Australian Securities Exchange. Transaction costs will be about $400,000, the company said.

SpeedCast agrees to pay up to $7.5 million more if SAIT reaches certain revenue targets in 2016, with this supplemental coming two-thirds in stock and one-third in cash.

SpeedCast said SAIT is expected to report $20 million in revenue in 2015, up 10 percent from 2014.

SAIT’s current customers, mainly Greek merchant fleets, rely on L-band communications links, with few of them having added shipboard VSAT terminals for higher-speed connectivity in Ku- or Ka-band.

SpeedCast, which will retain SAIT’s current management team, views adding VSAT links to the SAIT fleet as the most promising near-term growth vector. The company said it expects SAIT to maintain double-digit growth in its revenue and its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for several years.

The competition among large service providers to secure customer sets in the aeronautical and maritime sectors and to provide them with satellite-delivered broadband has heightened with the addition of new satellite platforms targeting these markets.

Multiple satellite fleet owners are now building high-throughput spacecraft whose capacity can be used to provide aircraft and ships with Internet links.

London-based Inmarsat, which has the biggest share of the current market for lower-bandwidth L-band communications, is trying to head off the competitive threat from VSATs by acquiring maritime satellite service providers and steering the acquired fleets to Inmarsat’s coming Global Xpress Ka-band capacity.

“Our maritime business is a key growth engine,” SpeedCast Chief Executive Pierre-Jean Beylier said in a statement. “There are significant revenue synergies between the two companies, and a strong potential for revenue growth and margin expansion in the key markets where SAIT Communications operates.”

The SAIT purchase is SpeedCast’s second in less than a month, following its purchase of the teleports and satellite services business of NewSat of Australia, which is in bankruptcy proceedings and is selling off its assets.

The NewSat acquisition, valued at 12 million Australian dollars ($9.2 million), included 20 NewSat employees and large teleports in Perth and Adelaide, Australia.

Industry officials say the concentration now occurring is a reflection of the fixed-cost structure of the satellite communications industry. The more aeronautical or maritime customers that are secured by a given company, the better it can maximize the use of satellite capacity that in any event is not fully used all the time.

“Concentration is good, and there is still some room to grow in this market,” said David Bruner, Panasonic Avionics vice president for global communications services, referring to the maritime sector after the purchase of ITC Global, which is focused on serving remote energy production platforms. “In each vertical [market, such as energy, commercial ship fleets or in-flight communications] we want to be best in class.”

In an interview in mid-June, Bruner said Panasonic and other companies hope to take advantage of the fact that many ship fleet owners are unsatisfied with their current L-band connectivity and are ready to install VSAT terminals for higher throughput.

Chicago-based Gogo Inc., a direct Panasonic competitor that for now is sticking to the aeronautical market, said industry consolidation is coming as some current providers will be unable to remain profitable.

“There is a scale economy in this business,” Gogo Chief Executive Michael Small told investors June 25. While insisting that Gogo’s satellite antenna is better than the competition’s technology, Small agreed that Panasonic’s purchase of ITC will allow Panasonic to make better use of its leased satellite capacity.