PARIS — R ebutting industry skeptics, Globalstar officials said their next-generation satellite constellation will be built and launched for no more than $1.2 billion, insisting that a firm contract for the work would be signed within “days or weeks.”
The company, which uses its constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites to provide a global mobile telephony service, also announced that an affiliate of its principal shareholder, Thermo Capital Partners of New Orleans and Denver, has agreed to purchase $32.3 million in Globalstar stock.
Milpitas, Calif.-based Globalstar Inc., which completed an initial stock offering on the U.S. Nasdaq market the week of Nov. 3, had said before the stock sale that it would sign a satellite-manufacturing contract for around $720 million with French-Italian builder Alcatel Alenia Space by Nov. 15.
The satellites are expected to cost around $10 million each to launch and insure, bringing the total cost of new 48-satellite Globalstar constellation to $1.2 billion, according to Globalstar estimates.
Globalstar missed its announced signing date. In a Nov. 21 conference call, Globalstar Chief Executive Jay Monroe said the contract is imminent. He sought to counter doubts about Globalstar’s cost structure expressed by Globalstar competitors includingof London.
Inmarsat Chief Executive Andrew Sukawaty has said Globalstar’s $1.2 billion estimate is probably several hundred million dollars short of what a next-generation system will cost when ground-station upgrades are included.
Monroe did not directly address the ground-infrastructure issue, but said Globalstar’s new satellite constellation will cost no more than the constellation currently in orbit.
“People get wrapped around the axle from time to time, thinking Globalstar’s cost to build a second-generation constellation is something other than it is,” Monroe said in the conference call, scheduled to discuss the company’s third-quarter earnings.
Monroe said the new satellites, much like today’s computers, will have more features, higher capacity and longer in-orbit life than their predecessors.
An Alcatel Alenia Space official confirmed that the satellite-construction contract had been held up only because of minor issues that did not threaten lengthy delays.
Eight spare first-generation Globalstar satellites are scheduled for launch by the French-Russian Starsem S.A. company aboard Russian Soyuz rockets in March and May, Monroe said.
Monroe said the purchase of 2 million Globalstar shares, at an average price of $16.17 per share, by Thermo Funding Co., plus the $118.6 million in proceeds from the stock offering and other available funds bring Globalstar’s total funding to more than $440 million — enough to begin funding the work by Alcatel Alenia Space.
To finance the full constellation and its ongoing operations, Globalstar is counting on increasing its revenues by 15 percent per year, reaching an EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — margin of at least 40 percent in the coming years. Monroe said these operating targets will generate enough cash to pay for the new constellation.
Globalstar Chief Financial Officer Fuah Ahmed said it costs Globalstar just 1.5 U.S. cents to deliver a minute of telephone service to U.S. subscribers. “Everything else we earn goes to the bottom line,” Ahmed said during the conference call.
Globalstar reported that as of Sept. 30, it had nearly 256,000 subscribers, adding 19,000 in the three months ending Sept. 30, meaning the company is on track to meet its goal of 270,000 subscribers by year’s end.
Revenues for the first nine months of 2006 totaled $107.4 million, up 18 percent from a year earlier. Retail subscribers are spending $69.40 per month, on average, Globalstar said.
A new-generation Globalstar phone built by Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego, Calif., called the GSP 1700 is being introduced on the market now and is expected to retail for about 25 percent less than its predecessor, the GSP 1600, Ahmed said.
At half the weight and size of the GSP 1600, the new Globalstar phone could open a substantially wider market for Globalstar services, Monroe said.
In addition to its current business, Globalstar is also considered an investment play on the future value of radio spectrum the company has secured for a future two-way voice and data service using ground-based signal amplifiers called Ancillary Terrestrial Components, or ATCs.
Globalstar, along with several current and prospective competitors, is negotiating with potential partners who would be willing to invest in the ATC network, first in the United States and then in other nations.
Monroe said a Globalstar partnership on ATC deployment could be structured in several ways, including a partner’s decision to purchase Globalstar outright for its U.S. and global spectrum rights.
But Globalstar is not a likely investor in ATC deployment.
“We do not have the building of a multibillion-dollar terrestrial system as our reason to wake up each morning,” Monroe said. “But you could imagine a partnership where the other party put in cash and the partnership together went out to build [the ATC network], using this spectrum. There are a lot of reasons why that would make sense.”