Q&A with Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce

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Inmarsat chief executive Rupert Pearce took time out for Telecom Times to address a range of issues around trends in connectivity in Australia and APAC, marking the mobile satellite communications firm’s 40th anniversary.

TELECOM TIMES – What would you say were the next key challenges and opportunities for Inmarsat in the APAC region and how does the firm’s ANZ strategy align with those?

RUPERT PEARCE – Globally, we are entering a new era of the always-on, pervasively connected global digital society: a planet empowered by dense, diverse interoperable 5G networks, with next generation connectivity transforming enterprises in a huge variety of market segments, and also having an increasingly powerful impact on the daily lives of consumers and on the relationship between governments and their citizens.

Rupert Pearce (1)The demand for truly reliable, high-speed mobile broadband is rising rapidly throughout the APAC region and across all the key markets served by Inmarsat, from maritime and aviation to energy, media and government, and we see this trend continuing.

For instance, in one of our core markets, the trillion dollar merchant maritime industry is being revolutionised by the advent of ‘smart shipping’ and the ‘digital ship’. In another, the rapidly expanding aviation market, the connected aircraft is becoming the norm, while governments are putting global, agile mobile communications at the heart of their core capabilities, and a range of land-based industrial sectors are being reinvented by the power of the Internet of Things.

In ANZ, we see the region increasingly adopting artificial intelligence (AI), machine-to-machine communications, advancing in autonomous transport technologies and experiencing rising consumer demand for always-on connectivity (including in-flight passenger Wi-Fi services).

In fact, the ANZ is a crucial market to Inmarsat and we expect our business to continue to grow within the region – through both government contracts and the Inmarsat partner channel.

We serve many customers here, across a range of sectors such as defence, maritime and shipping, aerospace, telecommunications, mining, and media; all managed out of our regional hub in Sydney. In addition to supporting customers, in New Zealand we also have two of our critical satellite access stations (SAS). Across the ANZ region as a whole, we have over 100 employees.

Inmarsat continues to look to strengthen its presence in ANZ and APAC, which are priority regions for us, and we are committed to providing the highest quality, best-value mobile broadband services and solutions to customers and partners here.

TELECOM TIMES – In terms of global delivery, what is next for Inmarsat where new products, services and potential partnerships are concerned?

PEARCE – In our 40th anniversary year, we are moving forward with a revolutionary new approach. One that builds upon our existing Global Xpress (GX) investments and delivers a step-change in the capabilities of GX and in our ability to help our diverse customer base to capitalise on the opportunities afforded by the emerging digital society.

In May this year, Inmarsat selected Airbus Defence & Space as its satellite-manufacturing partner as part of a ground-breaking development of its GX network.

This marks the beginning of the next phase of GX’s evolution, enhancing our global mobile broadband coverage with a transformation in network capacity and service capability. This transformation, together with the unparalleled agility of the next-generation satellites, will ensure GX remains at the forefront of innovation for the benefit of customers and partners.

Just in July this year, we also announced that we have partnered with Space Norway and its subsidiary Space Norway HEOSAT to introduce two new GX satellite payloads dedicated to the Arctic region.

Although it’s not Antarctic, it further reinforces our continuing technological innovation and industry leadership as we are significantly enhancing the quality of the service we are delivering in the Arctic region, where we have seen a boost in demand for true broadband from our customers.

TELECOM TIMES – In terms of rivals, how do you see Inmarsat optimising its chances to stay ahead of the game? Specifically, where do you see the most promising areas of potential differentiation? Purely technological, or in innovation partnerships?

PEARCE – Our commitment to and track record of innovation has allowed us to be the leading pioneer in global mobile connectivity for 40 years, and has seen us deliver multiple industry firsts, including GX, which remains the world’s first and only globally available mobile broadband network.

As we evolve and innovate GX, designed and fully optimised for mobility markets, we are future-proofing customer investments through backward compatibility with existing services, and enhancing our ability to roll out future technologies and innovations, as these emerge.

Users of mission critical connectivity have long-known that they can depend on us to deliver the most reliable service available – this evolution of GX’s space and ground infrastructure demonstrates our efforts at strengthening our differentiation even further.

Innovation partnerships continue to drive a big part of our growth strategy as seen from our most recent partnerships with Airbus Defence & Space, and with Space Norway and its subsidiary Space Norway HEOSAT.

Through our ecosystem of manufacturing partners, Inmarsat is also driving innovation in terminals and antennas, which enhance the capabilities of our network, reduce the cost of equipment and its physical footprint, and enable us continually to improve the connectivity solutions we offer.

Partnerships such as these provide us with much greater velocity and agility with which to respond to future competitive challenges and to adopt new technologies on a highly dynamic, rolling basis.

TELECOM TIMES – When looking at inflight aviation broadband services, what single element would give any provider a leading edge over any rivals?

PEARCE – It is impossible to select just one but I would say that the top three are global, seamless and reliable.

For airlines, the priority is to deliver a consistent quality of service to their passengers and that is why so many airlines – large and small – have been selecting GX Aviation. We have built our reputation over the past 40 years by delivering what we promise and this approach has been central to building and augmenting the GX network.

After delivering global GX coverage at the close of 2015 through an initial fleet of three satellites, we have subsequently focused on augmenting our unique ‘true’ broadband solution with additional and ever more powerful GX payloads, targeting regions where demand growth is greatest.

This reflects our long-term approach to network augmentation, as we continue to meet and exceed customer requirements.

I think that the quality of our inflight connectivity (IFC) solutions is highlighted in the landmark strategic collaboration agreement we signed with Panasonic Avionics Corporation last year, which will see our global IFC broadband solutions made available to ever more airlines.

Another important factor for airlines is the nose-to-tail approach. Only Inmarsat can provide satellite connectivity for the whole plane – from the cabin to the cockpit.

And it’s important to note that not only do we offer the most comprehensive set of satellite connectivity solutions, these same services are recognised as the gold standard in the industry.

TELECOM TIMES – On disruption, how much of a factor will this play in Inmarsat’s win proposition and how will the firm need to respond?

PEARCE – Forty years on from our birth, we are now entering a new era of the always-on, pervasively connected global digital society. As a result, we see the relevance and role of mobile satellite telecommunications expanding rapidly not just extending 5G onto the seas, into the skies and to remote and rural areas, but also adding security, resilience and unique space-based services to next generation terrestrial networks that are becoming part of the Critical National Infrastructure of nations and regions.

The new programme we announced in July – with the commissioning of GX7, 8 & 9 with Airbus – will transform Inmarsat’s global high-speed broadband network, providing unprecedented agility in space segment deployment, as well as an enhanced ability to adopt and integrate future technology innovation and disruption to the GX product line.

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