Telesat, Globalstar, Intelsat headline upheavals in satellite industry

A number of major satellite communications providers across the globe are in the throes of major corporate upheavals, whether that involves new leadership, new customers, new delays or other new developments. Companies generating headlines in recent days include Telesat, Globalstar, Intelsat, Gogo and EchoStar.

Broadly, the changes help highlight the evolving role that satellites may play in the world's telecommunications future. In the past they've been a relatively minor part of the globe's overall communications fabric, but thanks to innovations from the likes of OneWeb, SpaceX and others, satellites may well rise in prominence.

Satellite controller Sean Sauve works at the offices of Telesat.  (Source: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo)
Satellite controller Sean Sauve works at the offices of Telesat.
(Source: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo)

Among the latest developments:

  • Telesat reduced the size of its planned low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation for global Internet services. The company still plans to spend a total of $5 billion on its Lightspeed effort, but now plans to operate a total of 188 satellites instead of 298.
  • Globalstar signed a term sheet with a "large, global customer" to start deploying some of its spectrum for terrestrial use in the US and elsewhere. "We continue to believe Apple is the most probable wholesale satellite capacity customer but await further clues, with iPhone 14 release later this year a potential catalyst," the financial analysts at B. Riley Securities wrote in a note to investors.
  • Intelsat, fresh out of bankruptcy, installed a number of new executives from defense contractor Raytheon, including CEO David Wajsgras. The company remains locked in a contentious legal battle with SES over proceeds from the FCC's massive C-band auction for 5G spectrum.
  • EchoStar announced that the launch of its planned Jupiter 3 satellite will be delayed until next year. A number of other satellite companies have reported similar problems amid a tightening supply of satellite launch providers. EchoStar also sports a relatively new CEO in Hamid Akhavan. Further, Anders Johnson, who was leading the integration of EchoStar's operations with 5G, is leaving the company. However, the financial analysts at Raymond James believe that Johnson's departure doesn't necessarily signal a step back from EchoStar's broader plans to integrate its satellites into terrestrial networks. "We think hybrid solutions will play a major role in EchoStar's future, including geostationary (GEO), LEO and terrestrial 5G connections, and we think S-band [spectrum] will also play a role," they wrote.
  • Finally, Gogo announced it's still on track to deploy a terrestrial 5G network in the US by the end of this year. The network will beam Internet connections to airplanes. And Gogo executives reiterated their interest in adding LEO capabilities to the company's overall networking offerings, though they stopped short of making any firm announcements.

Broadly, the developments help show that a wide range of companies – beyond big-name players like SpaceX and Amazon – are heavily investing in communications from space. How the situation will ultimately play out remains unclear, but it's worth noting that an array of massive telecom companies have been inking agreements with satellite operators. For example, AT&T has an agreement with LEO operator OneWeb; Verizon has a similar deal with LEO hopeful Amazon; and Vodafone is working with upstart AST SpaceMobile to connect regular, existing smartphones to satellites.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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