Satellite communications provider Satcom Direct, well known in the business aviation market, is expanding rapidly, investing in its capability and in a production ramp-up, and introducing service innovations as it prepares to open an office in Hong Kong to cover the Asian market.
Satcom Direct is a service provider, connecting customers that use satcom equipment with the companies that loft satellites into orbit–it is rather like a telephone company that sells service but doesn’t own the infrastructure. Satcom users have to go through a service provider such as Satcom Direct to connect their systems to satellites, pay for services and manage their use of the system.
“We’re in violent expansion mode,” said Curt Gray, vice president of satcom technologies and development, at Satcom Direct’s ninth annual conference in early February. The company has grown to more than 100 employees and purchased a 13-acre campus where everyone will work together in one consolidated facility. Next to that building, Satcom Direct is constucting a 25,000-sq-ft data center that meets compliance standards that apply to highly secure and reliable data centers such as those that underlie Google’s infrastructure. “We’re going from 16 big rack servers to 132 in phase 1,” Gray said. “That’s phase 1 of four, so huge growth [is coming].”
Last year, Satcom Direct (Booth H320) added local support around the world, with new offices in Farnborough, UK; São Paulo, Brazil; and Dubai. In the second quarter this year, a new office is to open in Hong Kong, and more international offices are planned. “These offices are available when you’re traveling internationally,” said David Greenhill, co-founder and president, “if you ever need anything.”
“It’s all about customer reach,” said Chris Moore, vice president of international sales. Without facilities near customers’ destinations, it’s harder to get feedback on their satcom experiences, he explained, and more difficult “to develop customer relationships and make sure we’ve got the right level of services for them.” An important part of this effort is also hiring satellite experts who speak the local languages and understand problems faced by customers.
“Hong Kong is a massive hub for Asia,” said Moore. “The Asia market is rapidly expanding, so [we’re] making sure we’ve got a good presence there and the right people in that office.” Satcom Direct is hiring Mandarin speakers for that office, too, because the China market is growing quickly.
With offices all over the world and labratory facilities in Farnborough and Dubai, Satcom Direct is able to provide 24/7 service. “If you have any issues, we can test them on the bench,” Moore said. The company also offers regular seminars and training for customers, pilots and technicians. One new training program involves a partnership with FlightSafety International, for training Gulfstream pilots and technicians at its learning center in Savannah, Georgia. The classroom setup can also be used as a lab to troubleshoot satcom problems. Satcom Direct hopes to replicate this with other aircraft platforms.
At the conference, Satcom Direct highlighted new services and capabilities:
A new agreement with Aircraft Performance Group (APG) will enable APG customers to continue accessing runway analysis and weight-and-balance data from the aircraft via satcom, instead of relying solely on ground-based Internet access.
The 10-digit Global One Number that Satcom Direct offers to customers has been improved, so users can select a local number and country code to match where the aircraft is based. Global One numbers are available for more than 50 countries and 4,000 cities.
Operators with satcom-equipped aircraft often complain that modern mobile devices, which passengers forget to switch off, inadvertently use up expensive bandwidth during flights. Satcom Direct’s SkyShield applies filters to block unwanted data from being delivered to the aircraft. Three preconfigured filters are available, and Satcom Direct can also help customers develop custom filters.
The newest version of Satcom Direct’s FlightDeck 360 iPad app was released just before the conference. FlightDeck 360 “brings datalink capabilities to the iPad,” according to Scott Hamilton, vice president of business and strategic development. For a satcom-equipped aircraft without datalink, FlightDeck 360 allows pilots to use the iPad to view flight plans and upload them to the ForeFlight moving-map app and receive pre-departure and oceanic clearances and digital ATIS messages. The app also can be used for emailing, communicating with Satcom Direct support personnel while in flight and viewing coverage areas for satcom and Sita VHF networks. “If you have Internet access and no datalink,” Hamilton said, “it’s a great way to get those functions.”
Satcom Direct also introduced its first certified hardware product, the new satcom direct router. The router will work with any satellite constellation, including new constellations such as Inmarsat’s Global Xpress, seamlessly switching between networks. Operators will be able to split network traffic, for example, setting the router to allow a VIP passenger to access the fastest and most expensive satcom system, while other passengers could use a lower-cost channel to keep expenses in check. The router operates on both 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi frequencies and offers two sim card slots for access to ground-based 3G/4G cellular networks.
First deliveries of the new router–retail price is $27,000–should begin in May. Satcom Direct plans to obtain supplemental type certificate approval for installation of the router in most aircraft types. o