Rumorwatch: Will Inmarsat buy Thrane & Thrane?

Posted in Broadband, Financials, Inmarsat, Maritime, Operators, VSAT at 5:12 pm by timfarrar

In recent discussions we’ve heard rumors that Inmarsat may soon make a bid to take over Thrane & Thrane, its biggest equipment supplier. Inmarsat has certainly been in acquisition mode over the last year, taking over Stratos and Segovia and investing in SkyWave. Nevertheless, such a move would still be quite a shock for many in the MSS industry.

However, it would be a logical accompaniment to Inmarsat’s Ka-band strategy: Inmarsat would be able to reduce the price of L-band equipment (particularly FleetBroadband terminals) and thereby help to fend off the threat from Ku-band VSAT for the next few years until its new Ka-band satellites are in orbit. Thrane could also play an important role in development of mobile Ka-band terminals, which are clearly the biggest technical risk in Inmarsat’s entire Ka-band plan.

Though the threat from Ku-band has been hyped up recently, most notably in Comsys’s recent maritime VSAT report, our view continues to be that L-band has a very sustainable market position, outside the highest spending ships. To date, Ku-band VSATs have achieved only limited penetration within Inmarsat’s core maritime commercial transportation market (which incidentally is much smaller than 100,000 ships), and most of these ships spend far too little to ever contemplate a move to VSAT.

By reducing the cost of L-band equipment, in concert with its aggressive moves on airtime pricing over the last year, Inmarsat has a very viable opportunity to hold off Ku-band VSAT incursion. Even the recent concerns about shortfalls in Inmarsat’s maritime revenue growth during the first quarter of 2010 appear to stem much more from the price reductions that Inmarsat and its distributors have used to remain competitive on high spending vessels, rather than any substantial loss of market share to VSAT in the commercial transportation business. Indeed many maritime VSAT service providers had a very disappointing year in 2009, and quite a number of them are now up for sale, in what we would view as an attempt to exploit the perception of rapid future market growth before they actually need to fulfill these expectations.

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