Top FSS Operators | No. 3, Eutelsat

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Incredible but true: Eutelsat actually pulled the trigger on an acquisition.

It was only one satellite — the GE-23 spacecraft over the Pacific Ocean, purchased from GE Capital for $228 million. But for Paris-based Eutelsat, it constituted an unusual leap into the world of acquisition-driven growth.

Eutelsat up to now has secured its position as the fastest-growing of the larger fleet operators by expanding slowly eastward. The GE-23 purchase reinforces its push into East Asia as well as its plans to tap into the growing market for aeronautical and maritime mobile communications.

In announcing the GE-23 deal, Eutelsat Chief Executive Michel de Rosen said the company had recently reviewed another acquisition opportunity in Asia but had rejected it as too expensive. Industry officials say de Rosen was probably referring to Measat of Malaysia, which has been rumored for months to be for sale.

In its well-established markets in Europe and the Middle East, Eutelsat faces two questions — one that it cannot answer, and one that it has declined to answer until after its year-end results are published at the end of June.

The unanswerable question is whether the U.S. military’s gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan will mean satellite demand in that region will decline or be replaced — megahertz for megahertz — by increased use of bandwidth-hungry unmanned aerial platforms.

The answer to that question will determine the near-term trajectory of Eutelsat’s “Multi-usage” division, which is highly profitable and in recent years had been growing fast. The growth rate for that business has slowed recently, which Eutelsat officials say is partly a function of its higher revenue base and partly because the company has not had sufficient capacity to meet demand. Two new satellites are on the way.

The second question is whether Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat investment, which takes the company out of its core strength into the world of consumer satellite broadband, is delivering on its promise. Ka-Sat entered service in May 2011, and Eutelsat had said that by 2014 it would deliver 100 million euros ($130 million) in incremental annual revenue.

More recently, Eutelsat has declined to reiterate that revenue forecast, and has declined to disclose performance details including the number of Ka-Sat terminals sold and installed, subscriber count and monthly revenue per subscriber.

 

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