Steve Collar, SES president and chief executive, is shown talking to Rodolphe Belmer, Eutelsat chief executive, during a satellite operators panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris in September 2018. Credit: SpaceNews/Brian Berger

WASHINGTON — Fresh off the success of a recent contract win to connect IBM Cloud customers with O3b satellites, SES’s chief executive said many of the operator’s future geostationary satellites will have attributes of O3b to appeal to more cloud networks.

Luxembourg-based SES announced IBM as a customer last week, saying the two companies will collaborate on IBM Cloud computer services that rely on satellite connectivity.

Speaking Oct. 9 at the Satellite Innovation 2018 conference in Mountain View, California, SES CEO Steve Collar said cloud computer networks are the next big customer set SES wants to reach, and that the company will hone future satellites and ground infrastructure to serve such clientele.

Collar said the second-generation O3b satellites that Boeing is building, known as O3b mPower, will form the tip of the spear as SES reshapes its business to cater to more cloud computer companies.

“What we’ve done with O3b mPower is what we are going to do with every single GEO satellite that we launch in the future that is data or network related,” Collar said.

In an email, Collar elaborated on the O3b-ification of SES GEO satellites, saying such satellites will have “flexible, reconfigurable payloads that integrate fully into the network.”

SES has 16 first-generation O3b satellites from Thales Alenia Space operating in 8,000-kilometer medium Earth orbits, plus another four scheduled to launch next year on an Arianespace Soyuz. O3b satellites are all focused on data services, whereas SES’s 50-plus geostationary satellites in 36,000-kilometer orbits provide a mix of television broadcast and data connectivity.

Collar became CEO of SES in April, having served as CEO of O3b before the company was acquired by SES in 2016.

At the conference, Collar stressed the need to integrate O3b mPower with SES’s GEO fleet. A substantial part of this evolution will involve the use of an “intelligent ground network” that can manage services from each fleet regardless of orbit, he said. The ground network will need virtualized satellite gateways on the ground, shifting the emphasis from hardware to software, to become “an integral part of the cloud environment.”

“It’s making our network entirely flexible in terms of how traffic is routed,” he said. “Sometimes we will be sending traffic over the GEO system, over the MEO system or indeed over terrestrial links in order to deliver the right kind of experience to our customers.”

Data customers are gradually becoming a larger part of SES’s overall customer makeup, and are expected to grow faster than its core broadcast business. In July, SES forecast its broadcast revenue will shift from 68 percent of total revenue today to less than 60 percent by 2020. Data connectivity, in contrast, will expand from 32 percent of revenue today to more than 40 percent by 2020.

Collar described the reshaping of the company for cloud customers as a “third round” of major evolution (the first being 30 years ago with the provisioning of satellite television in Europe, and the second around 2009 when SES first invested in O3b).

“Ten years ago we were at the beginning of the journey of: how do we become a network provider rather than being defined as being a satellite operator? Now we are talking about becoming a mainstream participant in a global cloud-scale network community,” he said.

Collar said SES is retooling the entire company by “hiring a whole load of software engineers” and network engineers — talent the satellite industry has to fight with internet giants such as Google and Facebook for — to position the satellite operator as part of a larger cloud ecosystem. That process emphasizes hiring recent graduates, including those straight out of colleges and universities, he said.

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...