Orbcomm Expects To Ride Skywave Deal to Global Growth

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PARIS — Satellite machine-to-machine messaging service provider Orbcomm on Nov. 10 said its purchase of SkyWave Mobile Communications Inc. of Canada will transform Orbcomm from multiregional to global and push its growing subscriber base past the 1.2 million mark.

The all-cash transaction, which appears to tighten Orbcomm’s relations with mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat of London, is valued at $130 million and is expected to close in January following regulatory approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Orbcomm said.

Orbcomm also said it was targeting a launch of the 11 final second-generation satellites by mid-2015 aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corp. Falcon 9 rocket following the successful in-orbit testing of the first six satellites, which Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX launched in July.

In a conference call with investors, Orbcomm Chief Executive Marc J. Eisenberg said the delay in the launch was not because of SpaceX, but because Orbcomm froze production of the 11 remaining satellites pending a review of the performance of the first six.

With a couple of software uploads ironing out small glitches, he said, the satellites are functioning as designed and already lifting the total throughput of the Orbcomm constellation. 

The Rochelle Park, New Jersey-based company has restarted final integration of the 11 remaining satellites at prime contractor Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nevada, and “we’re now in a mad rush to get them launched,” Eisenberg said.

With the gap in coverage before the six satellites’ launch, Orbcomm customers sometimes had to wait as long as 45 minutes to get their messages sent, Eisenberg said. 

Since mid-September, when the six new satellites were declared ready for service, that time delay has been reduced to some three minutes. The entire constellation of 25 first-generation satellites and six second-generation spacecraft is now providing 10 percent more messaging throughput, he said.

The new satellites also bolster Orbcomm’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) service to global coastal authorities, allowing them to track ships in their territorial waters with ship-generated information on cargo, speed and heading.

Eisenberg said AIS revenue for the three months ending Sept. 30 was just over $1 million and should total $6 million per year within a year, rising to between $10 million and $15 million once the full second-generation constellation, all with AIS terminals, is in service.

Eisenberg and Orbcomm Chief Financial Officer Robert G. Costantini repeatedly referred to the purchase of Ottawa, British Columbia-based SkyWave as “transformational” for Orbcomm.

SkyWave brings about 250,000 machine-to-machine (M2M) subscribers to Orbcomm’s existing base of 937,000 subscribers, which was already set to grow by some 20,000 in the coming months following contracts with cargo transport fleets for Orbcomm subscriber units.

Costantini said SkyWave, which uses Inmarsat’s fleet to deliver service, is expected to report revenue of around $62 million in 2014, after subtracting for only about $2 million in business SkyWave does with Orbcomm now. The company’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will be some 19 percent of revenue.

Eisenberg said it was “almost uncanny” the extent to which SkyWave, which is Inmarsat’s biggest M2M partner, has grown in vertical markets and geographic regions with almost no overlap with Orbcomm’s business.

Where Orbcomm is focused on North and South America, Europe, Japan and the South Pacific, SkyWave has large markets in China, Russia, Central Asia and South Asia — with the exception of India — and areas of Africa where Orbcomm is not.

The remaining gaps in the combined companies’ coverage are in the Middle East, eastern Africa and India.

The same is true for the two companies’ customer types. Orbcomm has focused on commercial land transportation with services for construction-equipment makers and haulers of dry and refrigerated cargo containers. SkyWave’s business is centered on security-related and marine markets.

Orbcomm’s revenue mix is about two-thirds services and one-third from the sale of hardware; SkyWave’s is evenly split between services and revenue.

Under the terms of the purchase, Inmarsat will pay Orbcomm $7.5 million in return for ownership of SkyWave Earth stations now co-located with Inmarsat facilities and for a 50 percent ownership of SkyWave’s IsatData Pro (IDP) satellite and satellite-cellular terminal technology, which use Inmarsat’s satellite network.

IDP, Orbcomm said, offers higher data throughput and lower latency — meaning time to message delivery — than competing satellite M2M technologies.

The SkyWave deal follows an Inmarsat-Orbcomm agreement to undertake development of modems that would create an industry standard and make it easier for users to switch from one to the other, depending on geography and customer requirement.