Gaining a Foothold in the U.S. Mobile Communications Market

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Profile: Britt Carina Horncastle

President and CEO of Telenor Satellite Services Holdings Inc.

A s chief financial officer of Telenor Satellite Services, Britt Carina Horncastle negotiated the company’s 2002 acquisition of Comsat Mobile Communications from Lockheed Martin, a deal that gave the Norwegian company a firm foothold in the U.S. market for mobile communications.

Today, Horncastle, who holds both U.S. and Norwegian citizenship, runs the company’s U.S. operation, which boasts 190 employees. That makes it the largest part of Telenor Satellite Services, itself a division of the Norwegian telecommunications conglomerate Telenor, which provides a range of services to more than a dozen countries. Those services include telephone and Internet, television distribution via cable and satellite and mobile communications via satellite.

Telenor was a state-run telecom until 1994, when it was established as a public corporation. In 2000, the company was privatized and its stock issued publicly. Today its stock trades on the Oslo and Nasdaq stock exchanges.

The company has made international expansion a priority. A quick glance at Telenor’s Web site makes it clear that the corporation views its international satellite mobile communications business as the key engine for future growth.

Horncastle is quick to point out that while the U.S. operation is the company’s largest satellite services unit, it is not isolated. “The way we are organized with our engineering, operations and sales, we are fully integrated with what is going on in the rest of the world,” she said.

Horncastle also is part of Telenor Satellite Services Group’s executive management team, overseeing legal, procurement and risk management issues.

She spoke with Space News Staff Writer Jason Bates at Telenor’s Bethesda, Md., offices.

Why did Telenor feel it had to establish a presence in the United States ?

When we bought Comsat Mobile, it was basically to own global infrastructure and to have a presence in the United States because if you want to provide services to the U.S. government, you do not do that out of Oslo.

If you want to be active in Latin America, you do not do that out of Oslo. If you want to be a truly global company, I think it’s a must to have an operation in the United States.

Why is it important to be a global company?

The benefit is that because of the breadth of our portfolio, we can now offer a variety of services from a one-stop shop because we have the infrastructure and we have the knowledge. In order to become global and say we could offer services seamlessly on a global basis, we needed to get access to infrastructure that could deal with the Midwestern United States across to Australia. We didn’t just buy infrastructure in the United States. By taking over a lot of employees, we got a very good complement to the Norwegian engineering as well as a complement to our marketing capabilities.

Comsat had about $100 million in annual revenue at the time of the acquisition. What is Telenor Satellite Service’s revenue today?

We’ve grown about 50 percent over the past three years, and we should be able to continue the kind of compounded annual growth rate we’ve had so far in the United States.

Q: Who are your biggest customers in the United States?

Our largest customer, when you add up all the agencies, is the U.S. government, with more than 50 percent of our revenue. The Pentagon needs a lot of commercial satellite capacity. We’re not involved in the war theater or in critical missions or anything that has to do with operational communications. We deliver services to U.S. defense agencies on the civil side such as health and recreation.

What are the opportunities for growth in the United States?

We are very much aware that, although we are global, we are a small competitor coming from a small country. Therefore, we focus on small niches. We are not in the United States to take the consumer market. We very carefully assess what our advantages are and what we can offer U.S. companies.

One of the things we can offer is access to our global reach, and our global network and our global knowledge. For example, there are not too many people in Washington that also have a big subsidiary in Bratislava. When you combine that with activities in other Eastern European countries or the Middle East or Brazil, the combination of the various subsidiaries and our distribution network around the world makes us pretty unique.

You were involved in the privatization of both Inmarsat and Intelsat. Are you satisfied with the sales of the companies to private equity investors?

The fact that private investors have bought Inmarsat and Intelsat is a compliment in some ways to those of us who worked to try and get these intergovernmental organizations ready for the public or private equity markets. We must have done something right somewhere or they never would have bought these two companies, or New Skies for that matter. Not only did we build up good businesses, but we must have done the statutory formal requirements right as well.

Are you concerned about the future of the satellite operators under the private equity owners?

The change of ownership was necessary. Whether the private equity firms are going to provide the organizations with the ability to continue sustainable growth into the future, in my mind, that’s a big mystery. There’s nothing wrong with the private equity now in the next two or three years, but I don’t know what’s going to happen in five or 10 years.

What are your plans for increasing the market presence of the Israeli Amos-2 satellite in North America?

We have set up a link from the East Coast of the United States with the Amos satellites. It’s an ideal solution with a lot of U.S. forces in the Middle East right now. The satellite provides a unique capability for communication in that area.

What are your hopes for Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) mobile data service, in which Telenor is a partner?

Inmarsat just launched Inmarsat-4 F1, the first of the satellites, and we are ready and prepared to explore the opportunities that the BGAN product provides.

What other services are you involved in?

Global Relief Technologies is a small company that we have invested in which has developed software that enables people in the field, such as military or humanitarian personnel, to collect data and send that immediately back to their systems. Because it is a geographical information system based upon GPS, headquarters will get a 3-D map in order to see what the person in the field sees.

One of the things that we have seen for several decades is that the humanitarian community has had difficulty coordinating themselves during a catastrophe. There is a need to coordinate the kind of relief that is being provided so you don’t end up sending 30,000 tons of milk powder when people actually need water and shelter. This happens all the time.