exactEarth bests Orbcomm for Canadian contract that shrank to a pittance
PARIS—A battle between two companies over what they thought would be a large contract with the Canadian government for satellite-based maritime surveillance turned out to be a contest for peanuts in which the winner appeared to suffer more than the loser.
Orbcomm Inc. and exactEarth Ltd. had viewed the contract to provide Automatic Identification Service (AIS) to Canadian authorities as a multimillion-dollar deal similar in size to the business Canadian authorities have booked with exactEarth since September 2014.
That contract was valued at 19 million Canadian dollars ($14.5 million) over 18 months, including 7.5 million Canadian dollars that Canada had spent to provide AIS to other governments.
Cambridge, Ontario-based exactEarth, which debuted on the Toronto Stock Exchange in February, had said winning the Canadian government’s business would help it in securing work for the governments that were bundled into the original work. It would also help secure exactEarth’s 2016 revenue target.
In the event, the Canadian government decided it needed much less AIS than it had ordered previously, and for a shorter period of time. One industry official said the new contract’s value is valued at 116,000 Canadian dollars and expires in March.
In a May 5 statement, exactEarth elected to back into the subject. Instead of listing its value, it said the new contract was 600,000 Canadian dollars per month lower than what Canada ordered for its domestic use last year.
That means 7.2 million Canadian dollars in revenue removed from exactEarth’s anticipated backlog. The company’s total revenue for the 12 months ending Oct. 31 was 26.6 million Canadian dollars.
“While we are always pleased to win competitive tenders, our solution to the Government of Canada’s requirements in this case required only a small fraction of our satellite AIS capabilities, which was below our expectations,” exactEarth Chief Executive Peter Mabson said in the statement.
The news brought exactEarth’s stock down 48.5 percent in May 5 trading.
In addition to exactEarth and Orbcomm, Toulouse, France-based CLS, a subsidiary of the French space agency, also competed for the Canadian contract.
Orbcomm is based in Rochelle Park, New Jersey, but its Skywave Mobile Communications division is based in Ottawa, Canada, and has more Canadian employees than exactEarth, making the contest a battle between domestic companies.
AIS is a small, but growing, piece of Orbcomm’s total business, centered on machine-to-machine messaging and the Internet of Things. For the three months ending March 31, Orbcomm reported $1.6 million in AIS revenue, up 40 percent from a year ago.
Orbcomm’s 16 second-generation satellites are all equipped with AIS terminals. The final 11 second-generation satellites, launched in March, are still not all in their operating positions, but they are functional enough to have materially increased the number of ships their AIS terminals see per day, reducing the time between visits. Data is downloaded within 10 minutes of reception on the satellite, Orbcomm said.
Orbcomm Chief Executive Marc J. Eisenberg said in a May 5 conference call with investors that the Canadian contract had been divided into short-duration periods.
“Now it looks like Canada has become a relatively small deal” in satellite AIS, Eisenberg said, adding that Orbcomm was busy chasing down the governments that used to be part of the Canadian contract, and had been successful.
“In terms of the competition, we’ve been doing really well recruiting some of their customers,” Eisenberg said, without providing any examples.
Orbcomm shares dropped 7 percent on May 5 in trading on the Nasdaq exchange, but the Canadian contract loss was less important than $2 million in delayed Orbcomm terminal shipments. Eisenberg said the business was not lost, only delayed until this summer.
Orbcomm operates 41 satellites in low Earth orbit. The company said the 16 second-generation satellites – one failed in 2015 – had driven a 15 percent increase in the number of messages in the three months ending March 31, and a 17 percent increase in the number of bytes transmitted by subscribers. The second-generation spacecraft were handling two-thirds of Orbcomm’s total traffic.
The company’s subscriber base, measured in the number of active terminals, grew by a net 39,000, to more than 1.6 million, as of March 31.
Orbcomm told investors to expect record revenue and gross profit for the three months ending June 30 as the delayed terminal order translates to revenue and the full effect of the second-generation satellites is felt. The 11 satellites launched in December were declared operational in March even if some were still drifting into final position.
For the three months ending March 31, Orbcomm reported an operating loss of $114,000, compared to a loss of $1.3 million a year ago, on revenue of $43.6 million, up 3 percent from last year.
Services revenue was up 13 percent, to $26.9 million. Product revenue, hurt by the delayed delivery, was down 10 percent, to $16.6 million.