Growth Prospects Have KVH Flexing Its Muscles

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PARIS — Maritime satellite broadband terminal provider KVH Industries is sticking with its forecast that it can double its revenue by 2015 as its shipboard products widen their appeal into the offshore energy, government and yachting markets.

The company said its mini-VSAT terminal business, which added about 250 ships every three months to its customer base in 2012, will pick up the pace to 300 ships every quarter.

“It absolutely seems reasonable” that Middletown, R.I.-based KVH will be able to report annual revenue of between $250 million and $300 million, with an operating margin of 15 percent, by 2016, KVH Chief Executive Martin Kits van Heyningen said in a Feb. 12 conference call with investors. “We’re on track.”

KVH reported $137.1 million in revenue for 2012, up 22 percent from 2011. Operating income was 4.8 percent of revenue, compared with a small operating loss in 2011.

KVH specializes in small terminals that deliver Ku- and C-band broadband links to maritime customers. In 2012, it leased capacity on three commercial C-band satellites to provide a global reach for its mini-VSAT product line with an overlay of the company’s existing Ku-band network.

The company’s 1-meter-diameter TracPhone V11 mini-VSAT product is dual-mode and is designed to switch between C- and Ku-band transmissions.

Kits van Heyningen said the company’s addressable market should be viewed as much larger than the commercial shipping companies commonly associated with VSAT, or very small aperture terminal, satellite communications systems.

He said the global customer base is more properly thought of as more than 250,000 vessels carrying 1.4 million passengers and crew, all of them wanting broadband communications.

As would be the case with any company entering the maritime satellite communications market, KVH measures itself against Inmarsat of London, a former treaty organization that for a decade has been a private company with a presence on just about every ship that regularly leaves the coastline.

Inmarsat’s heritage L-band service cannot match the speed of a Ku-band VSAT system, which is one reason why Inmarsat is investing in its own broadband network, called Global Xpress, whose three large Ka-band satellites are scheduled for launch in 2013 and 2014.

Kits van Heyningen, who has promised that KVH will eat Inmarsat’s lunch, said Inmarsat has been raising prices on its smaller customers while maintaining an aggressive commercial posture on its larger accounts.

“They can’t win any new business at this point,” Kits van Heyningen said during the conference call. “They can only lose business because they have 100 percent market share, meaning that there is some Inmarsat equipment on virtually all of the vessels. Ships will always have some backup on board, which could be Inmarsat. But we’re getting the broadband business.”

Inmarsat officials say their strategy of using their ShipEquip division to retain Ku-band VSAT customers with contracts that feature a transition to Ka-band and Global Xpress is getting traction, and preparing Inmarsat’s market for Global Xpress.

Part of Inmarsat’s price-increase strategy has been to prevent what Inmarsat calls “free riders” from installing an Inmarsat terminal onboard but never using it except in emergencies, and relying on a VSAT for day-to-day communications.

Until recently, customers could do this without paying any monthly charge to Inmarsat. KVH is among the companies that have been taking advantage of this. Inmarsat has said that for the majority of customers who actually use the Inmarsat service, there have been no price increases.

KVH Chief Financial Officer Peter Rendall said during the call that the company’s average customer is paying monthly fees of $600 to $700 for per-megabyte service plans. Fixed-rate customers pay about $1,900 per month, he said.

KVH’s current customer base is only just now being introduced to the V11 product, which has been on the market since October. As of Dec. 31, 59 percent of KVH’s business was for the V7 product, 36 percent for the older V3 and just 5 percent for the V11, Rendall said.

In addition to the C-band overlay allowing global coverage, except the polar regions, Kits van Heyningen said the company has been investing in adaptive coding and modulation that squeezes more capacity out of a given satellite link. He said that once completed, the upgrade will double the capacity of the mini-VSAT network.