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New Horizons Set for Inmarsat Maritime

Satellite Over Earth

Published Apr 29, 2015 8:37 AM by The Maritime Executive

A fresh face and a fresh perspective. 2014 was a busy year for Inmarsat Maritime with acquisitions, new products and the launch of the first Global Xpress satellite as well as a significant change in senior management.

Mr. Ronald Spithout was appointed to the position of Inmarsat Maritime President in October 2014 and has since overseen a vertical restructuring of the business. Spithout, previously President of Inmarsat Enterprise, brings with him the same approach that drove success within that sector of Inmarsat’s business. He is quick to point out ‘that it is not about me but the entire team’ and that the changes implemented within Inmarsat Maritime come in direct response to the market and represent the best way to move the company forward.

Although most recently leading the enterprise side, Spithout has spent much of his 25 year career in telecoms within the maritime segment. He grew up in Rotterdam, part of the largest maritime hub in the world, and understands the particular idiosyncrasies of the maritime business while bringing a broader set of business insights.

Spithout takes the helm at a critical and exciting time for the company. The first of three Global Xpress satellites entered commercial service in July 2014, the second was recently successfully launched and is currently undergoing payload testing. Once fully tested, the satellite will be moved into its final orbital location where it will become ready for commercial service. With the Inmarsat-5 F3 expected for launch in the coming months, the company is on schedule to achieve full global coverage early in the second half of 2015. The fleet of high throughput satellites, whose network has been designed for mobility, will offer a unique combination of seamless global Ka-band coverage from a single operator, allowing Inmarsat to deliver the world’s first globally available, high-speed mobile broadband service. The Global Xpress constellation represents a US$1.6 billion investment by Inmarsat into the next generation of global mobile broadband communications.

Inmarsat has announced an ‘enhanced maritime product roadmap,’ which adds the possibility of moving customers towards Fleet Xpress via the immediately available FleetBroadband Xtra, signalling a definite change of direction concerning the service phase-in of the Ka-band coverage. The decision was made to make the benefits immediately available where possible to customers, rather than to follow the previous business model and wait until full coverage was in place before rolling out commercial services.

FleetBroadband Xtra effectively overlays capacity from the first Global Xpress satellite on present L-band connectivity across its current functioning area of coverage. Outside this area, customers will use existing L-band connectivity. With the first satellite in position above the Indian Ocean, there is a substantial business case for opening up this service; vessels trading in this area are able to take advantage of the improved connectivity almost a year before full global coverage is completed. As Spithout points out: “It made sense to make Fleet Xpress levels of service available at the earliest opportunity, and by launching FleetBroadband Xtra, we bring that capability to roughly 50% of the world’s merchant ships in service, as they operate under the footprint of the firsts GX satellite. That is a lot of vessels that will benefit as soon as the initial infrastructure is operational. As the remaining two Global Xpress satellites come online, covering the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean regions respectively, FleetBroadband Xtra’s Ka-band coverage will expand, but ultimately the brand will be phased out as customers migrate to Fleet Xpress.”

A clear view of the future

Under his direction, Inmarsat Maritime has been realigning itself, phasing out the last of the legacy businesses, to present a clear and consistent offering to the market. Spithout has done much to achieve a single brand proposition for the company, streamlining structures and integrating acquisitions vertically to optimize functional efficiency.

The company now has a growth strategy that can be articulated on one slide, and this is fully communicated across the business. There are three key areas of focus; value, volume and diversification. Concerning the traditional sector of strength for Inmarsat, the deep sea and merchant marine market, the objective is to concentrate on delivering more value. Existing services will be refreshed, and new services will be developed and added to the portfolio, for example, the Fleet Media package which is due for release this month.

Inmarsat’s volume play is targeted to address the under-penetrated market for smaller leisure and fishing vessels. This sector holds massive opportunity but requires propositions that specifically speak to the reduced requirements in terms of both hardware, data volume and cost.

The third identified area, diversification, is concerned with the growth of a maritime enterprise market. Enabled through the launch of the Global Xpress satellite constellation and positioning, Inmarsat is a business that is selling access to the maritime market. Spithout explains: “Inmarsat is progressing its role as an integrator through the Inmarsat Gateway and allied partnership with Cisco. Communications have evolved far beyond being simply another cost obligation on owners. Communications are now a fundamental driver of efficiency, not to mention safety and crew welfare.”

Inmarsat Gateway will refine the satellite provider’s ability to separate traffic. With the possibility of segmenting traffic and the associated billing, there is potential scope for numerous equipment suppliers and others to be able to connect with their products in situ and provide their customers performance monitoring and condition-based maintenance services from real-time data. The age of the truly connected vessel, where there is seamless integration between shore and ship, is at hand.

As Inmarsat homes its role as an integrator, it is mindful that partners may feel there is a threat of competition. Spithout sets out very clearly that the vision for the company is as an enabler of applications and not a developer. He sees the most beneficial landscape of the sector to be one of a level-playing field with Inmarsat not competing with its partners. Since his appointment, there has been a restructuring of the way Inmarsat interacts with partner companies. The reorganization means that all companies in the future will simply be known as ‘partners’, and it will be their set of value enhancing capabilities within the maritime market that will categorize them. This is in keeping with the overall vertical reorganisation of Inmarsat Maritime that is taking place under Spithout, in order to bring the greatest benefit to its customers through the most effective operating structure.

As the role of the communications company rapidly changes to that of an end-to-end solution enabler in all aspects of the connected business, Inmarsat will be effectively placed to lead this revolution.