SpaceWatchME Interviews: J. Alberto Palacios of GlobalSat Group

 

In the latest of our SpaceWatchME Interviews, we speak to J. Alberto Palacios, CEO of Globalsat Group

This forward-thinking company is at the very forefront of satellite connectivity across the emerging anddeveloped markets of the Americas. Here, Palacios explains the importance of being able to work with diversity across a fragmented market, the changes that this region is going through, and the opportunity the company has to work with some of the exciting new kids on the satellite block. As important, the Latin American market that GlobalSat operates in has many similarities to the Middle East market.

 

To begin with, can you give us an overview of the company?

Globalsat Group is a consortium of companies providing mission critical satellite communication services since 1999 across the Americas, mainly in Latin America, although our central office is located within the United States.

Our business is mostly centered around L-band satellite services, but this has been changing of late, both because of market trends and growth and also because of technical innovation. So even though our focus has traditionally been on mobile or COTM (Communications on the Move), there is an increasing overlap in MSS (Mobile Satellite Services) and FSS (Fixed Satellite Services), and our natural growth has also taken us organically into Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT), a technology traditionally more in line with FSS.

On the other hand, we are increasingly active in Machine-to-Machine/Internet of Things (M2M/IoT) which involves providing mission critical satellite links to fixed resources as well as tracking mobile ones. This usually includes large deployments and extensive systems integration.

So you could say we have grown beyond MSS but that is still where our core business is. In the end, it is all about providing communications links that are highly resilient and dependable; we are not in the business of serving the mass market, our clients come to us when lives and infrastructure depend on those links and it is through long term business relationships that we are best able to fulfill their satellite communications service needs.

As a continent with a real mixture of developed and emerging markets, what are the main challenges of working in the Americas?

The real challenge is being able to work with such diversity. Our formula is to have a local presence, with local experts who not only know the technology, but also know the local culture and regulations. Since we run a lightweight and agile organisation this means there is no large-scale staff in any single country, but we work in a very horizontal fashion, travel often and have people from different territories working together dynamically; our clients have straightforward access to our multi-continental array of experts. We sometimes refer to this organisational structure as being a mesh network, using a network technology metaphor. This sits well with customers in all markets where we participate; our style of deep interaction with clients and high adaptability to specific technical needs has gained significant mindshare for our brand, at a speed which is surprising in the usually slow-moving satellite business, and has led to increasing long-term relationships as clients understand how much help we can be.

Can we talk about the overall demand for MSS in the Americas? In which countries are you seeing an increase in demand and why?

The increase is generalised because there is a widespread awareness that at least some degree of connectivity is an operational necessity and not a luxury. This translates not necessarily into broad bandwidth and utopian satellite Internet piped to every workers’ Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD), but M2M/IoT is making its way into everything, so we see an increase in demand across the Americas which involves making sure the “nervous systems” of organisations do not go dark. This kind of demand is driving growth which surpasses growth in traditional voice (satellite phones) and business FSS.

Which market sectors in particular are using Globalsat’s services?

We span multiple vertical sectors such as energy, government, NGOs, agriculture, banking, media, and tourism. Our solutions are present in all MSS areas including land, sea, and air, both directly and through distributors crossing the Americas, and we also serve an increasing number of FSS customers.

What makes Globalsat stand apart from other players in the MSS market?

We are a team of Internet-era geeks, which is not the usual mindset seen in the traditional MSS and FSS worlds. As a result, we do not focus as much on selling devices and airtime; our focus is more on user experience, customer satisfaction and developing a long-term relationship with our clients. We consider ourselves partners, not resellers, regarding satellite operators and equipment manufacturers; we are not here to “sell the stuff.” We are here to help them do efficient, sustainable and socially responsible business, by providing market access and adding value not only “down” to users but also “up” to associates such as Inmarsat, Iridium, Cobham, Hughes, and others.

Also, we are users. We try out and test every new gadget and service and mode and push it all to the limits; we write bug reports and blog about the products. Sometimes we even break devices making sure we know of any weaknesses before they affect our users, and sometimes even before the manufacturer or satellite operator is aware. This has earned us trust not only among our loyal customers but also recognition from our business associates, which have increased our involvement in beta tests and early trials of upcoming and experimental offerings.

On a more down to earth note, our focus on customer experience has led us to implement user-accessible web-based administration consoles for clients which need to manage a large number of user terminals. Our AirTimeSat self-service platform is increasingly popular, especially among our government customers, providing usage alarms, automated service limiting, geofencing and other functionalities which increase their level of cost control and granular management.

Tell us about the work that you are doing regarding emergency communications, including the tsunami warning system in Chile.

The tsunami early warning system in Chile is one of our proudest involvements in the last few years. Because of extensive public-private cooperation and the work of unmatched professionals, death tolls have gone down two orders of magnitude comparing similar events before and after the system was in place. Thanks to this, we were named “Company to Watch” by the MSUA (Mobile Satellite Users Association) in 2016.

The solution involves L-band services on several layers, including relaying real-time sea level information immediately after a quake and activating emergency procedures and evacuation alerts, as well as providing mission critical communications to authorities, making sure a coordinated and efficient response is not delayed by the usual problems with mass communications services which tend to happen after a quake, both because of increased user demand and as an effect of infrastructure damage.

You have recently signed an agreement with LeoSat and also a MoU with Sky and Space Global (SSG). This is an exciting time, with new companies and new possibilities. How are you working with the companies and what are you hoping will be the outcome of collaborating with these emerging satellite companies?

LeoSat is interesting because it combines several key innovations which can provide an entirely unprecedented level of high-end service, while at the same time being technologically closer in scale and form to current deployments than other “big LEO” projects which seem more like science fiction.

As part of our agreement, we will hold a seat on the LeoSat Customer Technical Advisory Committee (CTAC). The committee will advise on system configuration, product design and the launch of LeoSat’s upcoming satellite constellation.

SSG is also interesting but in a very different way: it innovates in the exact opposite direction by appealing to the needs of low-bandwidth M2M/IoT at a price point which cannot be currently met by any satellite system. We are now excited to see their first three experimental satellites in space and we are taking part of the first running tests in Latin America.

How are Mobile Satellite Services transforming Latin America and what are your hopes for the future?

We see a sustained increase in connectedness, consistent with 21st century reality: the Information Society is no longer just a concept, and we will continue to do our part in ensuring that our long term customers have access to easy to use, adaptable, customised and turnkey communications solutions with mission critical class of service and unmatched customer support, spanning from very low bandwidth M2M/IoT to multi-VSAT Non-GEO Virtual High-Throughput Screening (VHTS).

Because we are technologically agnostic, we are not limited to L-Band or particular LEO or GEO satellite fleets. We are already involved in mobile Ka-band VSAT and the coming years will see a fascinating mix of new kinds constellations, terminals, business models and usage cases; we will be there to help our current and future clients and partners mix, match and make sense of it all to fulfill their missions. This is consistent with our emphasis on long-term relationships with customers, a trend we hope to increase in the coming years because it is better for all parties involved.