2013 Top Fixed Satellite Service Operators | No 1: Intelsat

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Intelsat’s 2013 revenue was enough for the company to retain the top spot on this year’s list of top fixed services satellite operators, but it could be a while before Intelsat finishes on top again. The company’s tepid projected 2014 growth, compared with the modest but higher forecasts at rival SES of Luxembourg, will in all likelihood put SES at the top once 2014 revenues are counted.

Washington- and Luxembourg-based Intelsat is in a holding pattern waiting for two events that will give it more freedom of movement. First is to reduce its debt load, a goal made easier by the current U.S. economic climate and the still-low interest rates that allow Intelsat to exchange high-cost debt for lower-cost debt.

Paying down the debt will do no harm to Intelsat’s stock price, which has not delivered much to investors since the April 2013 initial public offering.

The second event is the entry into service, starting in 2015, of Intelsat’s Epic line of satellites that reuse Ku-band frequencies to deliver high-throughput capacity in spot beams for mobile customers, especially the maritime and aeronautical markets. Both are niche markets now but growing fast, and Intelsat has parlayed what used to be considered as not-so-attractive orbital slots over the oceans into a business that makes high-throughput no longer the province of Ka-band.

Hemmed in by debt, Intelsat has to be creative when seizing external growth opportunities. Its recent agreement with African pay-television provider MultiChoice will result in a satellite launched over Africa on which Intelsat will have access to C-band capacity. MultiChoice will use the remaining capacity and will make advance payments to Intelsat to offset most of the capital investment.

Up to now, Intelsat has preserved most of its higher-margin U.S. government business as much of the reduction in U.S. government contract leases has been apportioned to capacity Intelsat leases on others’ satellites. How steep and long the government’s satellite bandwidth pullback after the withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq will be is unclear. Some industry officials are already reporting a slight upturn.