Component-maker Com Dev Posts Solid Numbers Despite Slowdown in Satellite Orders

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PARIS — Satellite on-board electronics manufacturer Com Dev of Canada on June 6 reported double-digit increases in revenue and backlog and a higher profit margin for the three months ending April 30 and said new commercial satellite contract wins by Boeing ultimately could provide a revenue boost at Com Dev.

Cambridge, Ontario-based Com Dev said its majority-owned exactEarth Ltd., a 3-year-old business selling satellite-based maritime traffic data to governments around the world, now has a 70 percent market share against competitor Orbcomm’s 30 percent and is on track to become profitable by this fall.

Com Dev’s core space components business rises and falls with satellite orders won by prime contractors that then outsource component work to Com Dev. The fact that Com Dev was able to report healthy financials for the three months ending April 30 despite a slow global market in satellite orders suggests the company’s growth potential when orders return to average, Com Dev Chief Executive Mike Pley said in a June 6 conference call with investors.

By Com Dev’s count, just four satellites, carrying a total of 196 transponders, were ordered in the six months ending April 30. Com Dev does not name the satellites, but the biggest of these was the EchoStar 19/Jupiter 2 satellite contracted by EchoStar’s Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md.

Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., won that order.

By comparison, in the six months ending April 30, 2012, 17 satellites with a total of 831 transponders were ordered — four times the transponder count of the current year.

Since Com Dev’s second quarter ended, seven more satellites have been ordered, reflecting what industry officials have said is pent-up demand for capacity that ultimately would result in new contracts and the feast-and-famine aspect of the satellite business for companies obliged to report quarterly results.

Five of the seven spacecraft ordered since April are high-throughput satellites, which is good news for Com Dev. Pley said a high-throughput satellite delivers to Com Dev — assuming it wins the contracts for on-board electronics — between 1.5 and three times more business than a more-standard broadcast satellite.

The five satellite contracts in question were all won by Boeing — four C- and Ku-band satellites for Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington using Intelsat’s Epic high-throughput design, and the all-Ka-band ViaSat-2 consumer broadband satellite for ViaSat Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif.

ExactEarth has five Automatic Identification System (AIS) payloads in orbit, with two more set to launch in the next six months and two more in 2014. The company, which is 73 percent owned by Com Dev and 27 percent owned by Hisdesat of Spain, expects to generate $50 million in annual revenue by 2015, which exactEarth estimates would be a 50 percent share of the total addressable market.

For now, exactEarth President Peter Mabson said the company’s revenue is about $3 million every three months, compared with around $800,000 for competitor Orbcomm of Rochelle Park, N.J. Orbcomm’s second-generation constellation of 17 satellites, all with AIS payloads, is scheduled for launch in the next 12-18 months.

Mabson said during the conference call that he did not expect the relative market shares of exactEarth and Orbcomm to change with the new satellites both are planning.

ExactEarth in May concluded a strategic partnership with SRT Marine Technology Ltd. of Bath, England, a builder of shipboard AIS transceivers for smaller ships, to coordinate future transceiver design for Class B vessels, which are smaller than the Class A ships that are now required to carry AIS gear. Some governments are moving to require AIS gear on Class B ships.

Mabson said the SRT agreement should permit SRT, which he said is the principal supplier of Class B AIS terminals, and exact-Earth to coordinate transceiver design to permit exactEarth to better capture ship data in heavily trafficked maritime routes.

It was not clear whether the SRT deal will result in transceivers that are tailored to exactEarth, or will enable better links with all satellite-AIS systems, including Orbcomm’s.

Mabson said exactEarth’s current satellite infrastructure permits ship data to be refreshed every hour, but there are occasional coverage gaps that result in longer stretches of time between data capture. These holes will be filled with the new satellites to be launched in the coming months, he said.

For the three months ending April 30, Com Dev reported revenue of 55.2 million Canadian dollars ($54.4 million), up 10.2 percent from the same period a year ago. Backlog was up 11.8 percent, to 149.1 million Canadian dollars. The gross-profit margin in the company’s space components division was 28 percent, up from 25 percent a year ago.