One of the most puzzling aspects of Inmarsat’s Q2 results was the revelation that while it has now activated over 30K ISatPhone Pro handsets (as of early August), and sold at least 15K handsets to distributors during the second quarter, land voice revenue in the quarter was only $3.3M, down 17.5% on the corresponding period in 2010. While the decline in overall revenue appears to be largely due to reduced BGAN voice usage in Afghanistan, service revenues from the ISatPhone Pro still appear to be pretty minimal, presumably less than $1M in the quarter, and Inmarsat admitted that the revenue “is still lagging where we would like it to be”.
I’m told that the reason for this discrepancy is that Inmarsat has sold nearly 10,000 phones in China over the last year, which come pre-activated with a 10 minute prepaid card, valid for 2 years. That explains why Inmarsat is now claiming to have achieved a one third share of new activations, although it still appears to be trailing Iridium in overall handset sales (Iridium added 17K net new commercial voice subscribers in the second quarter).
Of course, the booked service revenue from these ISatPhone Pro sales in China is well under $1 per month, which clearly has a dramatic impact on Inmarsat’s overall handheld ARPU. As a result, if the Chinese market continues to be a major driver of sales for the ISatPhone Pro, it will make it even harder for Inmarsat to come close to gaining 10% of the handheld market in revenue terms by the end of 2012. Indeed the challenge that Inmarsat faces in “break[ing] into the heavy-spending larger customers where there is a long-established provider in place” is amply demonstrated by the fact that apparently journalists don’t even know what an ISatPhone Pro handset looks like.