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ABS CEO Somani discusses brand refresh, industry trends

Smaller Geostationary Orbit (GEO) operators are looking at their role in a changing satellite industry. One of the interesting operators to look at here is ABS, which has expanded beyond its original footprint in Asia to offer services in other regions across the world.

Last year, ABS hired one of Yahsat’s best known execs, Amit Somani, as its new CEO, and the company announced a brand refresh in October to position itself for success in the next decade. With a new ownership and management in place, ABS now has an ambitious strategic vision: ABS – Agility Beyond Space, as it aims to offer diversified space and ground solutions to key verticals such as telecom, maritime, energy, mining, enterprise, government and defense, and broadcast.

Almost 12 months into the role, Somani speaks with Via Satellite in his first major interview since the new brand identity announcement about why ABS needed to make this change, what it means, and where the operator goes next.

You have been in the role about 12 months now. What are the challenges to position ABS for a successful future?
Somani: Like nearly all GEO operators, ABS was challenged in the last several years and had to adjust to a rapidly changing market. Having seen the situation, it was evident to me that there was a lot of good capacity in the right markets, as well as a highly capable, efficient and very agile workforce, but the company needed a shift in focus and to introduce new business models in order to go to market and compete effectively.

However, we all know there are still severe headwinds in the FSS [fixed satellite services] industry, so any repositioning and investment must be done very carefully. Nevertheless, we have managed to identify and are executing on specific initiatives which will open new growth avenues. These vary from technical solutions to value-adding partnerships allowing us to offer managed services.

You have just announced a brand refresh for ABS ‘Agility Beyond Space.’ Why did you need to do this? What was it about the old ABS brand that needed to be changed?
Somani: The ABS legacy is strong, and we wanted to maintain that, but we also wanted the brand and image to reflect our culture and positioning better, as well as demonstrate that we will be doing things differently going forward. ABS is one of the most agile companies I have worked with; we can make decisions and execute effectively than some of our larger cousins in the industry. Additionally, there is a lot more to ABS than our space segment, and we want to be known for that, especially as we adapt our way of doing business in the future. Finally, we have a strong culture to always go above and beyond whenever we can to satisfy our customers.

At events like SATELLITE and WSBW, regional operators talk about the need for a multi-orbit/partnership approach going forward. Where does ABS stand on this?
Somani: We are seeing partnership as a critical success factor across all orbits, including GEO itself. As GEO players and the industry overall shift focus and capital towards new strategies, be those NGSO [Non-Geostationary Orbit], applications or other opportunities; new satellite investments are becoming increasingly rarer despite FSS GEO demand in many areas still growing. We are progressively witnessing collaboration with others, often former GEO competitors to ABS, to make our industry more efficient, utilizing existing capacity, including ours, to serve needs where there is a specific value-add to be gained for the end customer.

On the NGSO front, we also see the same opportunity to drive industry efficiency and synergy using existing GEO capacity. An example would be utilizing idle FSS capacity by integrating simple GEO terminals with LEO [Low-Earth Orbit] terminals to push traffic over the forward link to provide “network offloading” benefits on the LEO network which could be congested in key markets. While not limited in terms of a use case, this is particularly useful when there is a broadcast component for an end client service such as distance learning for schools across a wide area.

What do you see as the role of a regional operator like ABS going forward?
Somani: Interesting that many still choose to refer to ABS as a regional operator. We might be smaller in terms of the number of satellites, but we are global, covering 93% of the world’s population and every continent except North America. Albeit from a market perspective, many of our customers are from there. While we had an office in the UAE for a while, having our head office and more senior presence there was a deliberate move to be closer to our customers, and at the heart of our coverage, spanning, Brazil, EMEA and APAC.

ABS has an old slogan – global presence, local knowledge – which dates back to 2014 and I think says a lot about how we differentiate not only in terms of capacity, but also our ability to localize solutions to meet regional or local needs. While larger players often have the capacity, their agility in terms of how customizable the service can be is limited given their need for global efficiencies and network management.

What do you see as the main target markets for ABS going forward? How do you view the breakdown between data and broadcast revenues going forward?
Somani: Clearly broadcast, while an important segment, is growth limited, so our focus is very much on data, which is the dominant part of our revenues. We are looking at innovative ways to reposition our existing broadcast beams for data use, particularly the DBS (17 GHz – 18 GHz) band, through investment in terminal development with manufacturers to enable a cost-effective, two-way terminal in this band. We can unlock a lot of capacity, not only for ABS, but for the industry as a whole. We are seeing strong support from regulators in adapting regulation, where needed, to allow the DBS band to be used for data services in addition to traditional broadcasting. We are encouraging more operators to work on this initiative with us to drive volume and make better use of the GEO infrastructure available today.

In terms of market demand within the data solutions segment, we are seeing significant growth potential in maritime, despite LEO and MEO [Medium-Earth Orbit] disrupting parts of this market. We are also seeing a resurgence in FSS opportunities for government, including the U.S. government, via our partnerships with various leading U.S. government system integrators. Historically, this has been a key segment for ABS and one which we believe we can build on again especially given our coverage and track record.

Could you tell us about ABS recent collaborations with industry partners?
Somani: We have been developing various collaborations with key partners to help expand the capabilities and offer differentiated services to end users. The foundation of these partnerships is based on innovative business models to create more value and enable secure and reliable satellite offerings. We launched a managed service capability based on a “white label” partnership with Network Innovations to serve business and government customers in Asia. We also strengthened our collaboration with Axess Networks by expanding their reach over the Middle East for both fixed and maritime verticals, leveraging our strategic new teleport in Cyprus which sees four out of five of our satellites.

Finally, what are your aspirations for ABS over the 2020s? Where do you hope to position the company?
Somani: We have room for growth using our existing capacity and this is what we are very much focused on today. However, we do have several key markets where we have the ability to differentiate due to strong local presence, such as the Middle East, Indonesia, or the Philippines. We also have good orbital rights at several key slots covering attractive markets. As a result, we will continue to explore the opportunity of new missions in these markets, including using the smaller GEO solutions which we are seeing increasingly viable in the market as time goes on. Satellite Today

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