Thuraya Wades into Maritime Broadband Market

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PARIS — Mobile satellite services provider Thuraya Telecommunications reported an 11.5 percent increase in revenue for the first three months of 2013 compared with a year ago and will provide a maritime broadband product by early 2014 to compete directly with rival Inmarsat’s Fleet Broadband, Thuraya Chief Executive Samer Halawi said May 16.

The product, which does not yet have a name, has faced multiple delays in part because of issues with Thuraya’s previous equipment manufacturer and has left the Dubai, United Arab Emirates-based company largely outside the high-growth maritime market.

In an interview, Halawi said that will change in early 2014 as Thuraya addresses what it said is the market’s “desperate” need for an L-band alternative to London-based Inmarsat’s product. Thuraya has recently begun selling its land-mobile terminals for maritime applications, but “it is not ideal” for certain maritime customers that need marine-ruggedized products, he said.

With not much of a stake in the game, Thuraya up to now has mainly stayed out of the argument between Inmarsat and providers of Ku-band VSAT, or very small aperture terminal, deck-mounted terminals. The VSATs provided higher throughput, generally at much lower cost than Inmarsat- or Thuraya-provided L-band.

But Halawi said Thuraya is encountering many prospective maritime customers who are leery of adopting a Ku-band VSAT solution because of concerns about signal dilution in heavy rain. 

It is not a new debate. The Ku-band VSAT providers — and Inmarsat as well, which has purchased a maritime VSAT provider and is planning its own Ka-band service — say today’s technologies permit higher-frequency transmissions to penetrate rain so that the degradation of service is not consequential.

Halawi said Thuraya will nonetheless be sticking with L-band for now, pending a larger review of the company’s strategy in the next year or so. Halawi has spoken of possible strategic partnerships with VSAT providers.

For now, Thuraya is focused on building its own business through the company’s three large geostationary-orbiting satellites. Halawi said Thuraya is investing $40 million between 2012 and 2016 on network upgrades to provide higher throughput and better coverage.

The company’s partnership with Softbank Mobile of Japan, which took effect in February, has already resulted in the sale of some 1,300 Thuraya terminals to Softbank customers in Japan.

Thuraya’s SatSleeve product, which transforms an iPhone 3 or iPhone 4 into a dual-mode satellite-terrestrial terminal, will roll out its iPhone 5 product in June, and a data model to permit WiFi links by September, Halawi said.

Halawi said Thuraya will remain a spectator, for now, in the machine-to-machine business, which has become a focus of competitor Inmarsat and is the core market for satellite constellation owner Orbcomm of the United States.

“Where is the revenue for this?” Halawi asked. “Everybody talks about how this market is growing, but for now the revenue [per subscriber] is peanuts. It’s also a drag on your network because you must keep the network awake. We are looking at it, though.”

Thuraya is a private joint stock company in the United Arab Emirates and does not disclose its revenue, unlike its competitors, which are publicly traded companies. Thuraya’s nondisclosure policy has obliged company officials in the past to fight off rumors about the service’s performance and financial results.

 

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