Jumping ship…

Posted in Financials, Inmarsat, Maritime, Operators, Services, VSAT at 9:26 am by timfarrar

Back in 2008, the decision of Maersk to choose Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband service for 150 (later increased to 370) vessels was described by Inmarsat as “a ground-breaking deal” which represented “the strongest possible endorsement of our revolutionary FleetBroadband service”. As a result, this week’s revelation that Maersk is now going to shift 400 vessels to VSAT must be a correspondingly earth-shattering blow to Inmarsat, because not only has Maersk decided to move away from FleetBB, but it has opted for a Ku-band solution from Ericsson and Thrane & Thrane (with a 7 year service agreement), rather than the XpressLink service from Inmarsat which would provide an upgrade path to the Ka-band Global Xpress service.

Maersk’s average spend for the 370 ships using the FleetBB service was about $2600 per ship per month retail, implying that wholesale revenues to Inmarsat in 2011 were between $8M and $9M (and making them Inmarsat’s biggest single maritime customer for L-band service). While Maersk will presumably keep Inmarsat as a backup, its safe to say that the vast majority of this revenue will likely be lost once the transition is completed. The decision to make this change comes after Inmarsat’s move to impose usage caps on maritime vessels in October 2011 (with the data rate limited to 20kbps once the cap is reached), because Maersk had apparently been generating as much as 25% of all I4 (BGAN+FBB+SBB) traffic under its former unconstrained deal, and Inmarsat was worried about the saturation of its I4 network in regions such as the Middle East, which could impact higher value traffic from defense and media users.

This news also comes in the wake of Inmarsat’s major reorganization, which was revealed in early January, and has led to the exits of a number of senior managers in the government and maritime business. Despite Inmarsat’s claims that it “does not intend to change its policy of distributing its services primarily through independent channel partners”, the new management structure will have both direct and indirect sales reporting to the same people, which has been very poorly received by Inmarsat’s distributors, who clearly expect Inmarsat to cut them out of the business in the future, as Inmarsat emphasizes its own direct sales channels and gets “closer to our partners and customers” as the new CEO describes it.

I’m told another part of the reorganization is that Inmarsat’s financial reporting will be realigned from Q1 2012 so that the four new business sectors (Inmarsat Maritime, Inmarsat Government US, Inmarsat Government Global and Inmarsat Enterprise) will report their own results on a total (retail) basis, rather than breaking out wholesale L-band revenues in land, maritime and aeronautical sectors separately. This will mean that a maritime customer transitioning from a FleetBB L-band service to a resold Ku-band service such as XpressLink will bring in the same (or more) retail revenue (albeit with a much lower gross margin), whereas previously Inmarsat would have had to take a hit to its wholesale L-band revenues to facilitate this transition.

However, this is going to make financial analysts even more confused about the prospects for the company than they already are. Most analysts have maintained a very positive view of the company, and apparently the consensus view is that Inmarsat should continue to derive value from its North American spectrum assets, whether or not LightSquared files for bankruptcy. With the triple threats of continuing bad news in the maritime sector (where there is a pretty bleak outlook for shipping companies), reductions in defense spending (including the pullout from Afghanistan) and that Inmarsat might ultimately end up paying money to LightSquared’s creditors rather than receiving future lease payments, Inmarsat’s next results call is definitely going to be worth listening to.

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