While the Middle East and North Africa experienced a tumultuous year, with the Arab Spring uprisings and political instability denting the profits of many operators in the region, UK-based satellite operator Inmarsat experienced robust growth.
Drew Brandy, Land Mobile Director, Inmarsat, describes the Middle East and North Africa as being a “key region for satellite technology”.
“We have expanded the land portfolio and are continuing to evolve the portfolio going into 2012, most notably the introduction of our voice services portfolio last year,” he says.
In the past year, the company has experienced significant growth from IsatPhonePro, its global handheld voice service, which was launched in June 2010.
“Since that time there have been a number of developments in that space. We have introduced four docking stations that allow you to use it for vehicular use,’ Brandy says. “We also launched a fixed phone variant called IsatPhone Link which we launched in the middle of this year.”
IsatPhone and Inmarsat’s BGAN data service have experienced steady growth in the region, and the services also tend to see a spike in use during incidents such as political unrest and natural disasters.
“BGAN has been a very successful technology for us. We have seen it used in most countries around the globe, but it continues to be driven by events. We have seen tremendous use of our services as a result of the conflict in North Africa and the Middle East, and saw it used extensively last year in Haiti and during the Japanese Tsunami,” Brandy says.
Given the unpredictable nature of this side of the business, Inmarsat is particularly excited about the potential of M2M communications in the region and globally.
The company is in the process of launching a portfolio of M2M services based on the BGAN protocol and also based on its collaboration with mobile communications firm SkyWave, which Inmarsat invested in during 2009.
Indeed, Inmarsat partnered with Skywave to launch its IsatData Pro service earlier this year. IsatData Pro delivers a significant increase in capability over other services already in the market, with near real-time messages of up to 10,000 bytes to the device, and up to 6,400 bytes from the device, to meet the increasing demand for higher data speeds for M2M services.
Brandy says that Imarsat’s BGAN-based M2M product is due to launch in February 2012. The company will push these products to various industries including oil and gas for remote pipe line monitoring, to utilities for smart metering, and to retail banks for point of sale transactions. “Those are the sorts of things we are really trying to create awareness around in 2012,” Brandy says.
“The M2M market is set to grow exponentially and it is partly because of the number of smarter connected devices that are expected to be in the market place by 2015. It is rapid growth and there are a few things that are driving this.”
Indeed, Brandy points out that M2M technology can drive significant savings in sectors such as public utilities, particularly for billing processes for water, gas and electricity.
“If I look at the utilities sector, it is not possible to get around to each home to take meter readings any longer and it is not an efficient way to manage a network,” he says. “Organisations are looking to satellite and technologies that can enable them to have control over their network from a central or network operations centre.
“Within the oil and gas sector, satellite has long been used for these types of applications.”
Brandy also points to transportation as an area of major potential for M2M. Companies with fleets of vehicles are increasingly showing an interest in the ability to track their vehicles.
M2M tracking devices can allow companies to see when a vehicle has gone outside a designated area and help improve overall efficiency. It gives companies greater visibility of their hardware and also benefits security.
Inmarsat is already seeing strong growth for M2M in transportation in Latin America, particularly Brazil, and Brandy says that there are signs that this demand is spreading to other markets.
“We are starting to see some of those trends spread to other regions where there are equally the same types of concerns. When you look at the number of vehicles that are stolen on an annual basis, even large heavy equipment vehicles, this allows you to safeguard your assets and also ensure they are operating as they should be,” Brandy says.
Brandy believes that M2M has huge growth potential for Inmarsat and thinks it could even surpass the business that the company currently delivers from its BGAN portfolio.
His optimism is largely based on the fact that M2M will offer a “sustainable revenue stream” compared to many of the more isolated spikes in business that the services experience from events such as natural disasters.
“M2M doesn’t necessarily create the same kind of traffic flow, but these devices get installed permanently and they generate traffic every month, every hour, depending on the profile of the user. It is a type of user that we are attracted to,” Brandy says.
The company is preparing to launch its M2M service in the first quarter of 2012, and is working with Hughes Network Services to develop its first BGAN M2M terminal. “We see North America, the Middle East and Africa as being key geographies for this product,” Brandy says. “We are working with our channel partners to ensure the successful launch and introduction of it.”