The varying demands for satellite communications in the AMEA

“Our vision is to establish SkyStream as a leading regional player” Mr. Riyadh Al Adely, Managing Director, SkyStream talks about the varying demands for satellite communications in the AMEA region with Teletimes International in an exclusive interview.

Riyadh Al Adely joined SkyStream in 2005 and was assigned to look after its activities in Afghanistan and GCC. Armed with a sound technical background and extensive industry experience, Riyadh has been instrumental in steering SkyStream from a small iDirect hub operator to a well-known satellite solution provider. Today, SkyStream has involvement in Marine, Military and Energy Sectors with regional presence all over Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Iraq, GCC, Yemen, Horn and North Africa. Riyadh is currently finishing his Executive MBA degree from Hult International Business School and holds a BSC in Avionics engineering from MEC. He started his career as an R&D Engineer in Iraq Military Industry Association, and worked as a senior system engineer for IBM Midrange. Before joining SkyStream, he was the Country Manager for a consultancy firm looking after Qatar, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.

Khalid Athar: Please give us an overview of the Middle East Satellite market and your predictions for what are going to be the most trending technologies and services in this region in the coming years.

Riyadh Al Adely: The Middle East satellite market is very dynamic – working in the ME is exciting but quite challenging, the market dynamics are changing fast in terms of prosperity to some countries and challenges to others that open the door for many industries including satellite to prosper and bloom. It is true that the market growth has slowed down in the last years but I believe this is short term and the potential is huge. The challenges to the industry growth are not an exception to the ME but it is a pattern which the whole industry is facing worldwide. It’s not a secret that today, the supply in capacity is growing much faster than the market, while almost the same applications are being offered. Today there is an urgent need to find new applications to serve new unmet needs. I see this is coming in the near future considering the innovative rich solutions companies are coming up with these days. Going back to the ME, I believe our chances to boost growth are higher. A closer look at the market structure will segment it into two categories, first potential markets but unstable due to security, economic or political sanctions, while the other segment is potential but heavily regulated. On the first market segment we will continue using the same old opportunistic approach due to the challenges on the ground, everything has to be short-term, and reactive. However, there is much more we can do in other market segments if regulators open up the doors for new operators and free the market To access those markets, there should be an organized effort from the industry that includes starting constructive and consistent two way dialogs addressing the regulator concerns and also influencing the importance of satellite communications. If that happens those market sizes will grow significantly and the impact will be crucial to our growth.

KA: What is the current level of competition in the market for you and what is SkyStream’s key competitive advantage?

RA: Today the market is flooded with plenty of offers from local, regional and international players. SkyStream made a strategic decision not to focus only on selling space segments or managed services but to add value and fulfill unmet needs in certain market verticals. This was a planned process started in 2010 to be specialized and since then we have acquired important skills and capacities in those verticals. Our focus is to integrate solutions for Military, Maritime (Mega Yachts) and Oil & gas. Of course there is competition but it’s more about what values that each one of us can add to serve customer requirements.

KA: We have seen a huge surge in demand for VSATs in the Middle East along with increased applications. What major drivers can you specify for this demand? How SkyStream catering to this huge market?

RA: You are right, there was a surge in the demand for VSAT. In the last 5 years everybody predicted a market collapse after the significant decrease in demand from the US army but the market had grown instead.The overall growth was not significant to the industry considering the loss of US army and their supporting contractors’ businesses. The market opened opportunities that surge the demand in many new and existing verticals mainly from local militaries, law enforcement, marine, airborne, energy, etc. I would call this surge in demand as a natural evolution of the market, SkyStream was fortunate to be a part of it right from the beginning, it was a great learning curve for SkyStream and was in line with our decision in 2010 to focus on providing solutions instead of space segments and managed services only. SkyStream is fortunate to be part of a rich group of companies (Atlas group), some of our sister companies such as Atlas Telecom helped us acquire capacities in certain market verticals and it was partnering with them that gave us access to those verticals. Atlas Telecom has a great presence in Military and law enforcement in the GCC and working with them in some of their projects related to satellite was a great experience. Moving on, Mega Yachts is a rich niche with great potential but requires specialized skills and knowledge, it is a great market that we have. This segment is still the pride of SkyStream. We are proud to service world breaking record yachts including the largest yacht in the world.

KA: Iraq has been considered a key potential growth market for SkyStream. Can you please give us some details on this market which make it a suitable focus for SkyStream?

RA: Iraq and Afghanistan were the anchor countries when we started the business. The US military and the local Internet requirement was our focus at that time. Today the situation is not the same; we have evolved since then and our main focus is to be a solid player for the Military and energy segments. The market responses have indicated that we are on the right path. Having said that, our vision in SkyStream is not limited to one country but to be a regional player. We want to go even beyond the region. Today we still see Iraq as one of our great markets but it is not the only market we operate in. Our operation is expanding, starting from West Asia to Africa and our service coverage today starts from the east coast of China going on till theeast coast of the Americas. The energy segment in Iraq is our main focus and we are proud to service some large operations over there. Military is another great market for which border control is a good example of our successful and solid satellite based solutions.

KA: Some of our readers would be really interested in details about SkyStream’s services to the Military sector?

RA: Military is a personal passion and that is my background. I am not sure if we can disclose some applications but let us start from the principles of Military solutions. Military operations have changed in the last decade. The purpose is still the same just like any other military but the approach is not based on inaccurate massive destruction paying high price of casualties and financial cost, instead the war today is about precise, accurate, pinpointed operations that requires certain elements. One of these elements is accurate and secure information, which creates the need for secure, high availability communication links and that is the starting point for our solutions to Militaries. Considering how different each military operation is from the others and how critical is the timing to make the right decisions, we found that militaries will always require fundamental needs for their solutions when it come to satellite; such as the need for a quick auto-deploy reliable solution that is scalable with the possibility to work in military and commercial satellites, security and ability to operate in multiple bands is another need, and mobility is also important, however last but not least a solution that mitigates the jamming effect and the list can go on and on.

KA: Could you please give us some details into your partnership with SES for satellite capacity?

RA: SkyStream was fortunate to work with great partners and without them we wouldn’t be where are we standing today, this is not limited only to satellite companies but to hubs, terminals manufacturers and all other strategic partners. Regarding SES, our relationship with them started from the early days of SkyStream. Their solid solutions, professional support and their belief in SkyStream was and still is the foundation of our partnership. The renewal that was announced in March was for a capacity that we are using since the first day of the company, which reflects how we value our relationship and SES solutions. SkyStream highly values its partnership with all satellite companies that we are working with today including Eutelsat and Intelsat as well.

KA: How does SkyStream plan on expanding coverage for the maritime market in the future? Please comment on the success of iDirect Satellite Hub?

RA: SkyStream does not believe that a one sized shirt fits all which is the motive behind the variable Maritime offering. We value customer experience and this is the basis for any solution that we provide. We made a strategic decision from the first day we decided to service Maritime. We believe in specialization and the decision was to acquire the skills and capacities to help us service mega yachts. Our infrastructure design was built and optimized to service this market’s vertical applications only, that include Hubs, teleport locations and space segments. Using iDirect in our Maritime solutions has strengthened our position and helped us to fulfill customer requirements to roam between multiple beams and satellites, also to share the BW between multiple yachts for the same client. We started using iDirect to manage the global C band for our Mega yachts and then we realized the importance of including Ku and Ka band to our portfolio. As I have mentioned before, our Maritime coverage starts from the East Coast of China until the East Coast of the Americas.

KA: You have previously at many occasions been an advocate of the potential growth in Oil and Gas market. How have you seen this sector grow over the past two years and what are your expectations for the coming future?

RA: Oil and Gas until now is the main energy source for our industrial world, this is the situation today and probably will last for quite sometime before we have another source of energy. Until that day, Oil & Gas will continue to be a great market vertical for the satellite industry. During the last year, the oil prices went down significantly and made some colleagues skeptical about this market vertical, however I believe that the negative impact in the Oil & Gas spending is very short term, on the contrary the low oil prices will help the industry to stay as the main source of energy for a longer period as it may be difficult for other sources of energy to become economically viable. Iraq is our focus for Oil & Gas. Its production capacity has increased significantly over the last years and will continue to grow at a faster pace specially when the infrastructure projects such as pipelines and oil hubs will be completed.

KA: How in your opinion is the extensive rolling-out of fiber in the Middle East affecting the consumer market for satellites? How can High Throughput Satellites counter this?

RA: The commercial satellite industry prospered during the period of 2003 until 2008, the main application at that time was to provide Internet and GSM backhauling. The industry approach was opportunistic and never long term, our approach was a result of the situations on the ground such as political or economical instabilities and we looked to provide temporarily solutions till the permanent one takes over and it was a matter of time when fiber optics rolled out in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. That was the time when we started losing the market to fiber optics. The traditional VSAT had no chance to compete against fiber due to economics but when High Throughput Satellites (HTS) became more prevalent in the region, we were back to the consumer’s world, not just due to economics only but HTS actually also solved the last mile wireless interference issues. The fiber rollout in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa is still in the form of landing stations, major backbones, but not the last mile in most cases. The last miles were served using wireless pointto-point solutions, making it possible to have proper network planning eventually affecting the quality of the end user service. Our partnership with Yahsat to promote Yahclick in the region was an interpretation of the above.

KA: What will be your focus for growth in the coming years? Are you planning to enter any new markets?

RA: The last 5 years in the SkyStream lifecycle was an exciting journey, it helped us to position ourselves as a solid satellite solution provider in the ME servicing Military, Oil & Gas and yachting. The exciting journey is not going to stop here, our plans for the next 5 years are to grow geographically with local presence and get licenses in some potential markets and add more solutions to our portfolio. This may include acquiring companies that will add value to SkyStream by helping us acquire new market verticals and experiences. We will also continue our plan to build up our own flat panel terminals on Ka and Ku band in cooperation with our strategic partner ‘Thinkom’ to service the military troops.

KA: Would you like to comment on Teletimes International (which is the only magazine focused on the satellite, ICT and Telecom sectors of the Middle East, Asia and Africa).

RA: Teletimes is a highly reputable magazine and we highly appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts and vision with industry colleagues over here. The magazine is a great platform to exchange experiences and success stories which at the end will impact positively on the industry itself.
Teletimes International Magazine 9 June 2015