Global satellite fleet operator SES, which did not exhibit at Satellite 2017, was not among the CEOs participating in the annual trade show's so-called "elephant panel." Credit: Kate Patterson for SpaceNews

WASHINGTON — Satellite 2017 visitors were surprised to see Kymeta Corp.’s booth in the prominent exhibit hall location traditionally reserved for global satellite fleet operator SES.

Antenna-maker Kymeta took over the prime location SES normally takes on the Satellite show's exhibit floor. Credit: SpaceNews/Debra Werner
Antenna-maker Kymeta occupied the prime location SES normally takes on the Satellite show’s exhibit floor. Credit: SpaceNews/Debra Werner
Antenna-maker Kymeta occupied the prime location SES normally takes on the Satellite show’s exhibit floor. Credit: SpaceNews/Debra Werner

That change prompted rumors and speculation on why SES did not have its usual high-profile presence at the annual satellite trade show, which took place here March 6-9.

“There’s been quite a bit of scuttlebutt,” said an industry executive who asked not to be identified.

SES is only too happy to clear up any confusion.

The elephant not in the room
“In our reflection of what we have to do this year, our priorities, what is missing, and where we therefore have to invest, having a booth on that show and having a seat on the elephant panel, these things were not priorities,” SES spokesman Markus Payer told SpaceNews. “When you look at what you spend compared to what you get, we had to set priorities.”

The “elephant panel” refers to the conference’s high-visibility session featuring global satellite fleet operator chief executives. The CEOs of Intelsat, Eutelsat, Inmarsat, Telesat and ViaSat were all there. The CEO of SES, which tied Intelsat as the world’s biggest satellite operator with $2.188 billion in revenue last year, was not.

Luxembourg-based SES maintains a presence in the metropolitan Washington area throughout the year. The firm has a large Washington office and the firm offers satellite communications services to U.S. government agencies through its subsidiary SES Government Solutions of Reston, Virginia.

SES Government Services was one of several aerospace companies to set up shop at hotels near the Satellite 2017 convention center. Credit: SpaceNews/Debra Werner

Top SES executives did attend the Satellite 2017 conference, including Ferdinand Kayser, chief commercial officer, Christophe De Hauwer, chief development officer, and Steve Collar, chairman of O3B Networks, which SES purchased in 2016. Pete Hoene, SES Government Solutions president and chief executive, also attended the conference.

“What we changed was the [SES] presence on the representative part of the show itself,” Payer said. “The expense and the energy it costs is a significant amount at the end of the day. It’s packages, it’s sponsoring, it’s material and film you need to produce. At the end, you make the calculation and say, ‘Is that what we want to spend for what we get.’”

Before SES executives decide to attend conferences or trade shows, they look at the firm’s internal statistics on the number of customer leads those events have generated in the past. Those calculations may prompt SES executives to attend the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona or European Commission events in Brussels, Payer said.

“One thing is very clear: The times are over where we would sit in the satellite sector and say, ‘We have these nice things and one day people will call and contract capacity,’” Payer said. “We have to make huge, enormous efforts to go deep into the markets in which we operate.”

“Satellite innovation does not make sense if we don’t feel the pulse of those people who could actually be interested in that capacity,” Payer said. “And it’s not about capacity only. Customers want systems, architectures, end-to-end solutions. If you don’t understand deeply what these people not only want today but will want, you are not evolving your products.”

Like its parent company, SES Government Solutions played a smaller role in this year’s satellite conference than it has in previous years. In 2017, SES Government Solutions executives are attending events that focus entirely on the firm’s U.S. government customers, said spokeswoman Natalia Kossobokova.

“For example, during Satellite 2017, we were the exclusive underwriter for a Defense One event titled ‘Space and Satellites in the New Administration,’” Kossobokova said by email. That event, held at the Long View art gallery near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which housed Satellite 2017, “afforded SES Government Solutions an opportunity to learn from, and connect with our U.S. Government counterparts during the week of the conference.”

SES Government Solutions also met with customers in a meeting room the firm reserved at the nearby Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel.

Payer and Kossobokova said it’s too soon to say what role SES will play in next year’s trade show.

“We will make our decision for next year later in the year,” Payer said.

Kymeta executives, for their part, were pleased with the noteworthy location of their Satellite 2017 booth. The firm has exhibited at the satellite trade show for approximately five years but its 2017 booth was twice as large as its previous booths, said a Kymeta executive.

“We had a big announcement this week and we wanted to celebrate,” she said.

On March 7, Kymeta announced a partnership with Intelsat to offer a commercial broadband service, called KĀLO, that pairs Kymeta’s flat panel antennas and terminals with Intelsat’s global satellite network.

Overall, the annual satellite conference continues to grow with 14,500 people registered in 2017, roughly eight percent more than 2016. Exhibits also were up, with 339 companies purchasing booths in 2017, a seven percent increase from last year, Lindsey Fuller, aerospace events group show director for Access Intelligence, a marketing and publishing company based in Rockville, Maryland, said by email.


Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...