Via Satellite: Satellite Executive of the Year. The Nominees for 2016

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Via Satellite’s Satellite Executive of The Year (SEOTY) is the industry’s most prestigious individual award. The winner will be celebrated at SATELLITE 2017, always one of the highlights of the event. It is time to introduce the six nominees to win the award for 2016

Last year, Michel de Rosen, then CEO of Eutelsat, won Via Satellite’s SEOTY. This year we have six contenders for the award. Stéphane Israël, chairman and CEO of Arianespace, Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO of ViaSat, Yuri Prokhorov, director general of the Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC), Jeff Tarr, president and CEO of DigitalGlobe, Pierre-Jean Beylier, CEO of SpeedCast, and Nathan Kundtz, CEO and president of Kymeta. We analyze why they have been chosen as we now face the tough decision of picking one winner out these very strong six candidates.

Mark Dankberg, Chairman and CEO, ViaSat


ViaSat continues to be one of the most disruptive forces for good in the satellite industry. Mark Dankberg, its chairman and CEO, as well as being a former SEOTY winner, has also been a serial nominee. It is little surprise given he is one of the most respected and visionary CEOs in our sector. However, even by ViaSat’s standards, 2016 was a huge year in many ways.

The company undoubtedly made one of the biggest announcements of the year, when it announced its ViaSat 3 constellation, a set of three satellites with state-of-the-art ground network infrastructure. The first two ViaSat 3 satellites, now under construction, will focus on the Americas and Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), respectively. The third ViaSat 3 satellite will serve the Asia-Pacific region, completing ViaSat's global service coverage.

What the company is looking to achieve here could be argued as unprecedented in the satellite industry. The numbers involved are breathtaking; according to ViaSat, the system will be able to deliver 100+ Mbps residential internet service, enabling 4K Ultra High Definition (Ultra-HD) video streaming. In terms of the strategically important In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) market, it will be able to support each aircraft with hundreds of Mbps of IFC services and video streaming for commercial airlines, business jets and high-value government aircraft. ViaSat will also be able to provide up to 1 Gbps speeds for use in maritime, oceanic and other corporate enterprise applications such as oil and gas platforms. The system will enable ViaSat to deliver more than 1,000 Gbps - or 1 Tbps - of network capacity per satellite.

Ever since ViaSat announced this system, it has been a key topic of conversation in our industry. While the term “game changer” is used a lot in our industry (some would argue perhaps too much), in this case, it seems completely justified.

However, ViaSat also won a significant amount of new business for the company in 2016, and in particular, cemented its position as the company to watch in the IFC sector. It signed deals with the likes of American Airlines, Finnair, SAS, Qantas as well as expanded contracts with Virgin America and El Al Airlines. It was a huge year for the ViaSat in this market. It also secured new contracts with the U.S. government agency that manages connectivity for Air Force One and other U.S. government senior leader aircraft.

ViaSat’s financial performance, given the headwinds we are seeing in the satellite sector, was also well above average. The company has set new company records for revenues, new orders, satellite services margins, and for government satellite services. ViaSat had an all-time record high stock price during November 2016.

Dankberg has also been a key spokesman for the industry, particularly when making arguments to the FCC about the protection of satellite services, and being a respected voice as terrestrial wireless looks to make gains at the satellite industry’s expense.

The company has consistently blazed a trail in our sector and Mark Dankberg has been one of the most respected CEOs in the industry for many years. In 2016, the company performed stunningly on so many levels it was impossible not to make Dankberg a nominee again for Satellite Executive of the Year.

Stéphane Israël, Chairman and CEO, Arianespace


Arianespace has long been the gold standard in the launch services market, that is no surprise, but when Stéphane Israël took over from Jean-Yves Le Gall, Arianespace faced more competition than ever before. Israël was a nominee last year and in 2016, if anything, the company has bettered the achievements of 2015, which is quite something.

So, why was 2016 a great year for Israël and Arianespace? In 2016, the company performed 11 successful launches. This included seven launches of its heavy launcher Ariane 5, which set several new records. The numbers are fantastic with Arianespace bringing more than 10.7 tons to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). The company also signed 13 new launch contracts this year, including nine Ariane 5 contracts: ComSat NG1 and ComSat NG2 (DGA), ViaSat 2 (ViaSat), GSAT 11 (ISRO), Inmarsat S-band/Hellas-Sat 3 (Inmarsat/Hellas-Sat), and four more undisclosed upper positions. It also signed two new Soyuz contracts (undisclosed), as well as two Vega contracts. Thanks to Israël, Arianespace now has an order book valued at 5.2 billion euros, a very healthy state of affairs.

However, while a number of successful launches and contract awards is no surprise, Israël has also done a lot of work to position Arianespace for a bright and prosperous future. This year Arianespace and the whole European space industry adopted a new system of governance. In early December, the joint venture Airbus Safran Launchers acquired 35 percent of Arianespace’s shares from French space agency CNES, now becoming Arianespace majority 74 percent shareholder. The evolution of the makeup of Arianespace’s shareholders is an essential step in finalizing the reorganization of the European space sector to make it more competitive.

This move brings Arianespace closer to its industrial primes, with the Ariane family and ELV-Avio with Vega, as well as the transfer of launcher design authority from agencies to private industry. It aims to create a more integrated space industry, with better continuity between the product and the market, and more agility and responsiveness.

Also this year, Arianespace confirmed its two future launchers, Ariane 6 and Vega C, at the European Space Agency (ESA) council during the Program Implementation Review (PIR) in September. With the contract between ESA and Airbus Safran Launchers signed on November 9, Arianespace is on track to pursuing its leadership on the commercial market with new competitive launchers even more adapted to customers’ demands. Israël has played a key role in convincing all public and private stakeholders of the sector to go for Arianespace’s new governance and to definitely confirm Ariane 6 and Vega C programs, a sizeable achievement.

So, thanks to outstanding performance, a number of great contract wins, as well as tangible progress toward positioning Arianespace front and center of the launch market going forward, Stéphane Israël, chairman and CEO of Arianespace, is once again nominated for our Satellite Executive of the Year Award.

Yuri Prokhorov, Director General, RSCC


Regional satellite operators are having more and more influence on the satellite industry, and the Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC) has been a stellar performer in recent times under the astute leadership of Yuri Prokhorov, director general of RSCC. 2016 was a key year in many ways for the operator: it put the company at the center of the one of the most technically impressive achievements in the satellite industry, a broadband network that covers almost all of Russia — some 7.000 kilometers. The RSCC satellite broadband system in Ka-band covers most of the territory of the Russian Federation using Ka-band on RSCC’s Express AM5 and Express AM6 satellites. The space segment of the system includes 12 Ka-band transponders on each satellite and the earth segment includes: four central earth satellite communications stations, and two central Hughes Jupiter switching stations in satellite communication centers Khabarovsk and Dubna, including the system for monitoring subscriber connection and network health.

While the rollout of this network is an impressive technical achievement on its own, there was a lot more to RSCC story than this. The company is set to increase its revenues by 30 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, which given how other operators are showing very little or no growth, makes RSCC stand out from the crowd.

What is perhaps most impressive about Prokhorov’s leadership is the way he has transformed RSCC into a more entrepreneurial, internationally focused company than many would have thought possible. 2016 saw the company enter into Latin America for the first time, and it has now done its first contracts in this region. In 2016, RSCC has also significantly extended its customer base in South Africa, another key target for the company. It has also made more inroads into the maritime market, another high growth market for satellite operators. As well as key contracts internationally, in 2016 RSCC, together with Intersputnik, implemented a major project for the largest mobile operators in the Russian Federation (MTS, Megafon, Vimpelcom) for cellular backhaul services in remote areas in Siberia and the Far East of Russia.

The evolution of RSCC is significant, and under Yuri Prokhorov’s leadership, the company has become a significant presence on the global satellite landscape, and not just Russia. Implementing a huge broadband network in Russia is also a considerable achievement, and a strong financial performance also is a key highlight. It is for these reasons that Yuri Prokhorov has been nominated to Via Satellite’s Satellite Executive of the Year award.

Nathan Kundtz, CEO and President, Kymeta


While the satellite industry is full of great and established companies, for the industry to survive and prosper going forward, it needs new blood and ideas to shake things up. On the technology side, Kymeta is clearly disrupting the antenna market, a key market given how the satellite industry is targeting mobility markets such as aero, maritime and connected car going forward.

2016 was a banner year for Kymeta and its President and CEO Nathan Kundtz. The company secured a partnership with Panasonic to bring its flat-panel antenna to the maritime market in the second quarter of 2017. Combining Panasonic’s high-throughput satellite network with Kymeta’s lightweight antenna design will enable maritime vessels anywhere in the world to gain access to cost-effective, high-speed connectivity for owners, passengers and crew alike.

In a key technical achievement, at the 2016 Monaco Yacht Show, Kymeta demonstrated 2.9 dB additional gain when combining two Kymeta mTenna Antenna Subsystem Modules (ASMs). The demonstration also confirmed the low-power consumption of the Kymeta mTenna technology, drawing only 12 watts of power per ASM.

In 2016, Kymeta also announced an agreement with Toyota at the 2016 North American International Automotive Show to bring the Kymeta mTenna technology to future cars. Also, in September 2016, Kymeta and TECOM announced a Partner Development Program for the aviation market. Under the terms of the agreement, TECOM will incorporate Kymeta mTenna technology into an aviation-grade terminal to demonstrate connectivity to a Ka-band satellite.

The company is blazing a trail in the antenna market and has also reached a key financial milestone in 2016. Kymeta secured $62 million in new Series D funding in 2016 and has now successfully completed two rounds of funding. The most recent was the company’s biggest to date, and included investors such as Bill Gates, Lux Capital, Kresge Foundation and Osage University Partners.

In 2017, we will see Kymeta’s mTenna technology become commercially available in the first half of next year, reaching businesses across sea, land and air. Kymeta has been a technology innovator and disruptor, and Kundtz has been at the heart of making Kymeta a huge force in satellite, even before its technology is commercially available.

Kundtz dealmaking skills are particularly impressive. It has formed partnerships with companies as diverse as Toyota, Intelsat, Panasonic, Inmarsat, Airbus Defence & Space, Sharp, Intellian, and O3b among others.

Kymeta has created a buzz in the satellite industry. Its technology could have a huge impact on the overall market, and the innovation and breathless desire to make a difference that often comes up with a start-up make it a very different contender to others. However, Kundtz is an executive on the rise, shaking up our industry. It is for these reasons he is being nominated for our Satellite Executive of the Year award.

Jeff Tarr, President and CEO, DigitalGlobe


Jeff Tarr is a first-time nominee for SEOTY, but has been one of the industry’s standout performers in 2016. DigitalGlobe has been a huge force in the burgeoning satellite imaging market, and 2016 was a highly significant year for the company on many levels. The breadth of Tarr’s dealmaking is something that really stood out this year. In 2016, DIgitalGlobe signed new contracts and extensions with a number of the biggest players in location-based services, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Esri. DigitalGlobe’s largest customer, the U.S. National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), exercised the option for the seventh year of the EnhancedView Service Level Agreement, which provides U.S. government personnel with cost-effective, pre-emptive access to the world’s highest-quality commercial-satellite imagery, which is unclassified and sharable with allies of the United States.

Perhaps its most intriguing deal of the year was a multi-year, global partnership with Uber, through which it will supply the ridesharing company with high-resolution satellite imagery to further improve Uber’s mapping capabilities. These improvements will be manifested to end users in the form of more accurate ETAs, routes that quickly adapt to lane changes, traffic and roadwork, and more accurate pickup and drop-off locations.

Internationally, DigitalGlobe announced an agreement with KACST, a long-time direct access customer in Saudi Arabia, and its affiliate, TAQNIA Space, to develop and launch six or more sub-meter small satellites. KACST and TAQNIA will fully fund and build the satellites, and DigitalGlobe will provide its ground infrastructure, operations expertise, production capabilities, and worldwide sales and distribution capabilities.

In November, DigitalGlobe completed the acquisition of Chantilly, Virginia-based The Radiant Group from Aston Capital for $140 million. This deal expands its customer base across the U.S. intelligence community, increases access to contract vehicles, and brings together hundreds of developers and analysts with expertise in geospatial Big Data and analytics.

In November, DigitalGlobe also launched its newest high-accuracy, high-resolution imaging satellite, WorldView 4. This satellite was originally an asset owned by GeoEye, which merged with DigitalGlobe in 2013. Formerly known as GeoEye 2, this satellite was originally designed as a competitor to DigitalGlobe’s WorldView 3 satellite, which was launched in 2014. These two satellites will now operate in tandem at the same altitude capable of collecting imagery with 30 cm resolution. The five-satellite DigitalGlobe constellation will now be able to collect more than 4 million square kilometers of Earth imagery each day, or more than 70 terabytes of data.

There is little doubt that DigitalGlobe has been a pioneer in the satellite imaging sector. The company is on track to reach $1.4 billion in revenues in total across 2015 and 2016, a really strong financial performance showcasing DigitalGlobe’s immense growth potential.

The company has been a sterling performer, and Tarr has been at the heart of one of the best growth stories within satellite. It is through these many accomplishments, that Tarr has deservedly been nominated for our Satellite Executive of the Year award for the first time.

Pierre-Jean Beylier, CEO, SpeedCast


Not that long ago, SpeedCast was a relatively small satellite service provider mainly targeting Asia. Over the last two or three years, the company has been one of the most ambitious companies in satellite making a number of high profile acquisitions to turn itself into a huge satellite service provider across key verticals such as oil and gas, mining, telecoms and government, as well as now having a global presence.

SpeedCast undoubtedly made one of the deals of the year when it announced in November it was acquiring Harris CapRock for $425 million, a company larger than SpeedCast, and a key player in the energy and cruise sectors. The combined entity will service more than 9,000 vessels, hundreds of rigs and platforms, and enterprise and government customers around the world with a wide portfolio of communications and IT services. The acquisition will enable SpeedCast to deliver services and support in more than 100 countries, and was undoubtedly the key highlight of SpeedCast’s year.

But, there were most definitely other highlights too. The company closed the transactions of Newcom International and ST Teleport, expanding its footprint into Latin America, which was a gap for SpeedCast, and strengthening its position in Asia including the addition of a key teleport in Singapore. In August SpeedCast acquired WINS Limited, a Europe-based provider of broadband satellite communications and GSM solutions for the maritime sector.

What is most impressive about SpeedCast is the sheer ambition it has shown to become a global player. In 2016 the company grew to more than $220 million in revenues, almost doubling the size in two years since its IPO at the end of 2014. The Harris CapRock acquisition is aimed at taking SpeedCast to the next level, from being a fast growing global player to a leader in the satellite industry.

Beylier has established himself as one of the most talked about and ambitious CEOs in our sector. From being a niche player only a few years ago, the company, particularly when you factor in its deal for Harris CapRock, will become a huge presence in markets like energy, cruise, etc. If you take the energy market as an example, SpeedCast has now establishing itself as a global player in the energy sector as illustrated by the implementation of multiple networks for a leading oil services company globally. Its revenues from energy grew organically in 2016 amidst a market that has been a tough one for satellite players to monetize recently.

In maritime, SpeedCast announced partnership agreement with Ericsson to provide seamless global connectivity and end-to-end communication solutions. Also, in this sector, in June, SpeedCast announced a deal with KTsat, which will see the two companies work together to provide global Ku-band maritime communications services to up to 150 vessels.

SpeedCast has been one company to watch and Pierre-Jean Beylier has been at the heart of a quite stunning transformation for the company. It is for these reasons he has been nominated for Satellite Executive of the Year. 

by Mark Holmes, Via Satellite