Not very happy holidays for the MSS sector…

Posted in Aeronautical, Broadband, Globalstar, Handheld, Inmarsat, Iridium, LDR, Maritime, Operators, Orbcomm, Services, TerreStar, VSAT at 12:20 pm by timfarrar

As I remarked in an interview for the Satellite 2012 downlink newsletter yesterday, 2011 has seen a dramatic deceleration in MSS revenue growth, with wholesale service revenues now expected to grow by less than 3% in 2011, compared to the 7%-8% growth seen in each of 2008, 2009 and 2010. Yesterday we also released our latest industry report which gives ten year forecasts for MSS industry growth. In the L-band market (including Inmarsat L-band, LightSquared, Thuraya, Iridium, Globalstar and Orbcomm) we project cumulative revenue growth from 2010 to 2020 of only 4% p.a. and even when Global Xpress is added to Inmarsat’s revenues in the latter part of the decade, the overall cumulative growth rate is only increased to around 6% p.a.

This represents a striking contrast with widely quoted forecasts from Euroconsult and NSR, that the MSS market (excluding GX) will grow at 7% p.a. over the decade (Euroconsult) or 10% p.a. from 2010-15 (NSR). These optimistic forecasts seem to have achieved wide currency with analysts and bankers, who have argued (for example at the Satcon conference in October) that the MSS industry is more attractive than the FSS industry because of its much faster growth profile. One example that stands out is a JP Morgan analyst report on Inmarsat, published last Thursday, which gives an upbeat assessment of Inmarsat’s prospects and projects a target price of 800p per share (roughly double the current level). Not only does JPM expect LightSquared’s spectrum lease payments to be continued indefinitely after they file for bankruptcy (which is ludicrously unrealistic once you understand that LightSquared’s political backing has evaporated and even the FCC has basically given up on them, but may reflect the fact that JPM co-led (with UBS) the sale of LightSquared’s first lien debt earlier this year), but they expect Inmarsat’s core L-band business to resume growth at 2.5% p.a. from 2012 and Global Xpress to achieve Inmarsat’s target of $500M in annual revenues after 5 years.

Where do we differ with Euroconsult and NSR? It appears the primary source of the discrepancy is in our expectations for the maritime and aeronautical L-band markets. According to the JPM report, NSR is projecting 11% p.a. and 13% p.a. growth respectively for the maritime and aeronautical segments between 2010 and 2015. We are told that Euroconsult also takes a relatively optimistic view of the outlook for the maritime and aeronautical L-band markets. However, our expectations are that wholesale maritime and aeronautical L-band service revenues will actually decline between 2010 and 2020, as customers move to Global Xpress and other VSAT solutions. As a result, future L-band growth will have to come from land-based services, particularly low speed data and (to a much lesser extent) handheld satellite phones. That’s relatively good news for Iridium and Globalstar (as well as Orbcomm, if they can continue to gain momentum), but its still unclear whether ~8% p.a. growth in land MSS revenues will be sufficient for all of these companies to thrive in the face of what will inevitably be an ever-increasing focus by Inmarsat on this part of the MSS market.

If you are interested in our latest report, which also includes a detailed analysis of Inmarsat’s maritime market outlook and forecasts for in-flight passenger communications services, as well as discussion of the current prospects for terrestrial use of MSS spectrum, please contact us for more details about our MSS information service.


May the Force be with you…

Posted in Globalstar, Handheld, Inmarsat, Iridium, Operators, Services at 8:40 am by timfarrar

So Iridium has announced its “vision for the future of personal mobile satellite communications”, Iridium Force, including a range of new products and services. These new products and services are not exactly what was rumored last week (no commercial Netted Iridium service or standalone Bluetooth device). Instead they include the new Iridium Extreme (9575) phone, which includes integrated tracking capability and an SOS button, a new smaller 9523 voice and data module (which could potentially form the core of a standalone voice-capable device) and the AxcessPoint WiFi hotspot which provides data capability through a 9575/Extreme or 9555 phone.

It seems the aim of the AxcessPoint hotspot will be to increase usage of existing phones, via a low incremental cost (~$200) accessory, which is likely to provide a better financial return for existing service providers than a more disruptive low cost standalone device. Indeed Iridium expects to achieve a premium price for the new Extreme phone and does not see a need to lower the price of the 9555 for now (given its strong sales so far this year despite competition from the ISatPhone Pro).

If the two phones are sold (at retail) for say ~$1200 and ~$1000 then it wouldn’t surprise me if up to 80% of Iridium’s handset sales for the rest of this year are of the new Extreme phone (assuming adequate stocks are available). That would certainly be positive for Iridium’s 2011 equipment revenues, which to date have not declined compared to 2010 as the company originally expected. However, Iridium intends to keep the 9555 in production, providing it with optionality on pricing next year, once Globalstar comes back into the handheld market.

What will be really interesting is how Globalstar pitches itself, given that Inmarsat has not achieved much revenue success with the ISatPhone Pro at the low end of the market. It seems Globalstar will need to challenge Iridium and focus on the medium and high end of the handheld market in order to achieve reasonable ARPU levels. In that case, how important will a low price handset be to Globalstar (given this strategy hasn’t yet enabled the ISatPhone Pro to penetrate the high end of the market)? Will unlimited usage packages be a better strategy to pursue, or will Globalstar’s other attributes (consumer distribution channels, better data speeds, low latency and good voice quality) be sufficient to achieve a different result to Inmarsat? Whatever course Globalstar takes, Iridium’s success in the handheld market over the last 12 months means I’m not convinced that lower handset prices are as important to future revenue growth as some people previously expected.


Bits and bytes…

Posted in Financials, Handheld, Iridium, LightSquared, Operators, Regulatory, Services, Spectrum, TerreStar at 9:20 am by timfarrar

Next week on September 7, Iridium is announcing “a new force in personal communications that aims to address the growing expectation of connectivity everywhere, all the time” which is “more than the launch of a single product”. There have been a couple of rumors about what this might be, firstly a commercial version of the Netted Iridium PTT service that has been such a success with the DoD, in conjunction with the new 9575 phone (which has a convenience key that could support such functionality) or secondly a Bluetooth-enabled device (similar to inReach or SPOT Connect) that is voice and data capable and can connect to standard cellular phones (a concept that has been put forward on multiple occasions by various MSS operators, including ICO Global back in 2001 and is already possible on Inmarsat BGAN terminals). Of course there may be some third unknown possibility, but of these two options it appears that the first is a more differentiated concept and may be nearer to realization at this point in time.

This week Inside GNSS reported some interesting insights into the LightSquared/ GPS interference debate, including a meeting in Washington DC last Friday August 26, “brokered by NTIA” which “suggested that a new test period — of 90 days or more may be needed”. The article also mentioned “Guidance from the White House” which mandates that officials “cannot attack LightSquared” because “President Obama apparently sees LightSquared’s plan as a centerpiece of a wireless broadband initiative that he hopes to make part of his re-election campaign”. More information may emerge at the rescheduled September 8 hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which could be especially controversial as “NTIA reportedly is refusing to release information about the effect of GPS denial of service submitted by federal agencies” (similar to the devastating FAA assessment) to the Committee chairman.

Finally, a little more clarity emerged on how the claims of TerreStar’s various creditors will be treated, after the bankruptcy judge ruled on August 19 that the first lien debtholders have a valid lien on the proceeds of TerreStar Networks’s spectrum licenses. As a result, it now appears that in the TSN bankruptcy, there may be as little as $30M-$40M of cash left for the unsecured creditors ($1111M left of distributable value after paying the DIP and PMCA loans vs secured claims of $1077M as of August 31), who have total claims of $460M (including $179M for the 6.5% Exchangeable Notes and $104M for Sprint), although of course some of these claims (including an intercompany loan of $57M from TerreStar Corporation) are being challenged and TSN has asserted quite sizeable claims in the TSC bankruptcy (which could increase the total recovery, albeit in New TSC Notes, by tens of millions of dollars). However, this certainly means that Harbinger is taking yet another hit on its TSN investments, when it was buying Exchangeable Notes at as much as 82 cents on the dollar last November and the return to unsecured creditors is estimated to be only 10 to 15 cents on the dollar.

In the TSC bankruptcy, the Plan of Reorganization that has been filed contemplates that unsecured creditors (including potentially Elektrobit and TSN) with total claims estimated at $136M will receive “New TSC Notes” with “face amount equivalent to estimated Allowed Claims” secured by the estimated $177M value of the 1.4GHz spectrum. The Preferred Stock holders ($90M of Series A held by Highland and $318.5M of Series B, the majority of which is held by Soros and Harbinger) will fund an exit facility of $6.5M and receive all of the new equity in TSC, while the 1.4GHz spectrum lease (with Harbinger/ LightSquared) will remain in place providing $2M per month of revenue for TSC and more than covering the estimated $12M annual interest expense on the New TSC Notes.


The China syndrome…

Posted in Handheld, Inmarsat, Iridium, Operators, Services at 8:41 am by timfarrar

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.


Why is Iridium outselling Inmarsat?

Posted in Handheld, Inmarsat, Iridium, Operators, Services at 1:50 pm by timfarrar

Last July, I suggested that although the performance of ISatPhone Pro was better than I had expected, the pricing strategy adopted by Inmarsat seemed to be mistaken and their expectations of rapid churn from Iridium were wide of the mark. Some criticized this opinion as biased, suggesting that the ISatPhone Pro would actually be “a huge hit“. Based on conversations with distributors last fall, I encountered a quite diverse set of views, with some expecting the low price of the ISatPhone Pro to open up significant new markets, and others concerned that they would not be able to make up for the lower revenues through increased volumes and (what were supposed to be) better margins.

Now that the first results are in from Q1 of this year, it appears that Inmarsat sold only 6K-7K handsets (total revenues of $3M including accessories), while Iridium sold well over twice that quantity (15K+), with handset unit sales up 39% on the previous year. These results come as quite a shock, because even though I was relatively skeptical about the potential of the ISatPhone Pro to open up new markets, I still found it hard to envisage a scenario where Iridium sold more handsets than Inmarsat this year. However, unless things turn around dramatically in the second quarter of the year (which is the key sales window for handheld MSS phones), that will very likely be the outcome for 2011 as a whole. (Note that Inmarsat did have slightly more net adds than Iridium in the quarter, ~7K as opposed to 4K-5K for Iridium, but that reflects the fact that Iridium has well over 200K commercial handheld subscribers, some of whom will inevitably terminate service each month).

Distributors now seem far more downbeat about the prospects for the ISatPhone Pro than they were even late last year, presumably because so far it doesn’t look like substantial untapped markets have emerged, and customer response to the phone itself (as opposed to the price) has not been that positive. In addition, the ARPUs being generated by those ISatPhone Pros that have been sold appear to be rather low, because Iridium seems to have been quite successful in targeting multi-unit sales and retaining its high value customers, while leaving the low end individual market largely to Inmarsat, by not reducing the headline price of the handset too much.

Will Inmarsat therefore fall short of its target of reaching 10% of the MSS handheld market after 2 years? In terms of active handsets the target remains achievable (if now somewhat more challenging), because Inmarsat needs to gain around 70K-80K handheld subscribers by the end of 2012 (compared to around 15K ISatPhone Pro users at the moment). However, it seems all but impossible for Inmarsat to generate the $30M in annual wholesale service revenues it would need to gain a 10% share of handheld MSS revenues. Indeed, unless Inmarsat does gain much greater traction amongst high end users, it is plausible that its annual wholesale service revenues from the ISatPhone Pro may be as low as $10M (and in any case are unlikely to be more than $15M) in 2012.


Deja vu all over again?

Posted in Financials, Handheld, Iridium, Operators, Services, TerreStar at 10:42 pm by timfarrar

When I read this review of the TerreStar Genus phone, not only did it confirm my own views about the limited prospects for the phone and the wider lack of interest in dual mode satellite phones, but it brought back quite a few memories from the late 1990s.

Most notably, likening a satellite phone to a “brick” is never a good sign (“It’s huge! It will scare people…If we had a campaign that featured our product, we’d lose“).
Also the suggestion that AT&T hasn’t identified the market correctly if it thinks people will use this as their “everyday mobile device”, along with criticism of the “hefty series of price tags” (“What it looks like now is a multibillion-dollar science project. There are fundamental problems: The handset is big, the service is expensive, and the customers haven’t really been identified“)


Where does the ISatPhone Pro work?

Posted in Globalstar, Handheld, Inmarsat, Iridium, Operators, Services at 8:46 am by timfarrar

One of the most interesting questions about Inmarsat’s new ISatPhone Pro is how well it will work at low elevation angles, including for example whether the phone antenna needs to be pointed towards the satellite. This is going to be particularly relevant in Alaska, much of which lies very close to the nominal edge of coverage, and well outside the 20 degree elevation angle contour (where Inmarsat suggests that “more user cooperation is required”), as shown below.

However, I’ve been told by Inmarsat that the phone is performing better than expected, even at relatively low elevation angles, so it will be interesting to see what this means in practice. Given that the beams used for registering the phone on the Inmarsat satellite are lower power than the beams used for a call, it appears probable that either the phone will register successfully and then calls can be made OK, or the phone won’t register and then no calls can be made at all.

Its surprising that we haven’t yet seen any published real world tests of the Inmarsat phone in comparison to Iridium, similar to the Frost & Sullivan reports which compared Iridium and Globalstar in 2008 and 2002. However, I’m sure similar analyses will be undertaken by both Iridium and Inmarsat at least for their own internal purposes, and possibly even for external publication if they believe the results are favorable. If you’ve tried out the phone in “fringe” coverage areas then feel free to let us know about your experience in the comments section below.

UPDATE: So now Frost & Sullivan has released its comparison of the Iridium and Inmarsat phones, which was commissioned by Iridium. It is notable that in Anchorage, Alaska, Frost & Sullivan “was unable to make or receive a call despite dozens of attempts and was only able to briefly find a satellite”. This points to difficulties with registration, as we suspected. However, Inmarsat sources tell us that it is perfectly possible to register on the satellite in Alaska, and make calls there. We haven’t yet got an independent view, but it would seem likely that the actual answer may lie somewhere between these two opposing views. We would speculate that you will probably have to have a pretty good idea where the Inmarsat satellite is so you can point the phone antenna at it during registration (maybe using a compass would be helpful?).


How to spoil a decent product launch

Posted in Globalstar, Handheld, Inmarsat, Iridium, Operators, Services, TerreStar, Thuraya at 2:37 pm by timfarrar

Inmarsat has now launched its ISatPhone Pro, which I was lucky enough to try out the other week. Although the phone itself is not particularly attractive, the call performance was better than I expected – voice quality was good (with the other party easily recognizable), and the ability to ‘walk and talk’ was far superior to my experience with the TerreStar Genus phone. Latency was also somewhat better than on the Genus phone. The main limitation was that the phone only registers on the Inmarsat satellite when the antenna is extended and pointed in the direction of the satellite, which means there is a delay of 1-2 minutes before a call can be made, and calls will rarely, if ever, be received on the phone (assuming the user doesn’t want to carry it around with the antenna extended).

Though Inmarsat’s phone is not expected to perform well at high latitudes (particularly in Alaska), it should generally be a good alternative for those MSS voice users who aren’t worried about carrying such a large device. The phone itself has been priced very aggressively, with pricing currently around $599 and in some cases close to $500.

However, the most surprising development is the airtime pricing that Inmarsat has set. Postpaid wholesale pricing has been set very low, leading to retail offers of $150 per year with 60 free minutes of calls. Even more extraordinary is the prepaid pricing, where a user can buy a 25 minute card, valid for 2 years, for only $20.

In my view the fact that Inmarsat has selected a uniform 2 year expiry date on its prepaid cards is a huge mistake, which I can only assume is due to the limitations of Inmarsat’s prepaid billing system (note also that prepaid service is currently not available in the US, due to patent litigation over the prepaid platform that Inmarsat uses). Iridium has previously indicated that about half of handheld MSS users are “glovebox”-type customers, who only use the phone for emergencies (and rarely use any minutes). To date such users have been paying at least $30 per month for satellite phone service (apart from occasional dual mode roamers on Thuraya), but now they will be able to get service for less than $1 per month. Inmarsat has thus completely undermined the economics of a significant part of the handheld MSS market, making it impossible for its service providers to justify targeting these customers (especially as SPs are busy competing away the margins which Inmarsat expected would be available on its handsets). In addition to leaving large amounts of money on the table, this action may also create added costs for Inmarsat, as these users are the least likely to be familiar with the limitations of satellite communications and thus may well end up consuming disproportionate levels of customer support resources.

Inmarsat may well have had a reason to act in such a destructive manner a few months ago, when it thought it might have the opportunity to prevent Iridium gaining funding in the public markets to pay for its NEXT contract. However, now that Iridium can rely on more money than expected from COFACE, such a calculation looks less sensible.

Despite having an attractive proposition for low end users, Inmarsat may still prove less successful than it hopes amongst higher volume users. In particular, these users will gain less of an advantage from the low occasional use tariffs, and may be somewhat reluctant to churn after making a substantial investment in buying an Iridium or Globalstar handset in recent years. Inmarsat has stated that it believes the average lifetime of a satellite handset is around three years, but in reality Iridium and Globalstar handsets are used for up to 8 years (and there is a thriving market for secondhand phones). As a result, churn in the handheld MSS market is much lower than Inmarsat apparently expects (even for Globalstar users, who have had to cope with a lack of two-way service in recent years), which will make it difficult to persuade large numbers of existing users to switch over rapidly to Inmarsat’s new service. On the other hand, competition from Inmarsat will potentially force Globalstar to offer rather more aggressive pricing as it tries to rebuild its subscriber base in 2011 and 2012.

In the end therefore, Inmarsat may end up being able to trumpet a fairly large number of handheld subscribers (potentially up to 150K by 2014), but many of these will be less desirable customers and ARPUs may be rather lower than expected. Thus the overall impact for the handheld MSS market of Inmarsat’s new service (even when combined with Globalstar’s two-way relaunch in 2011) may remain subdued, and at best we expect wholesale revenue growth of no more than 10% p.a. in the next five years. Indeed a more pessimistic view, assuming significant erosion of ARPUs at the low end of the handheld market could put wholesale revenue growth at less than 5% p.a. over this period.


Guaranteeing a competitive future for MSS

Posted in Aeronautical, Broadband, Financials, Globalstar, Handheld, Inmarsat, Iridium, Maritime, Operators, Services, VSAT at 2:57 pm by timfarrar

So Iridium has finally announced the contract to build its NEXT satellites, which was won by Thales Alenia Space (TAS) with the support of a stunning $1.8B loan package which will be 95% guaranteed by COFACE, the French Export Credit Agency (ECA). By the sound of it, Lockheed had been confident of winning the contract, but the US Ex-Im Bank simply couldn’t match the level of support offered by COFACE.

Even Iridium appears surprised by the $1.8B Promise of Guarantee, given the suggestions in their March 2010 results call that the company would need to raise additional unsecured or subordinated debt in the public market. We had expected Iridium might need to raise $300M or more in backstop financing, based on Iridium’s April 2010 investor presentation which stated that the company was “seeking support for a[n ECA] facility of approximately $1.5B”. COFACE’s additional support therefore clearly appears to have tipped the balance in favor of TAS, because it removes the risk that Iridium would have faced in trying to tap the public markets at this point in time.

We now expect Globalstar to point out that Iridium has received an even more favorable financing package than Globalstar did last year (when Thermo was required to provide additional backstop funding as a condition of the $586M COFACE-backed facility) and potentially to seek a $200M+ extension of its current facility. This would provide funding so Globalstar could exercise its option to purchase the last 24 second generation satellites, allowing them to add more satellites to their constellation before NEXT becomes operational (and before radiation problems are expected to start impacting their 8 first generation spares in about 2015). Such a facility could also give Globalstar more firepower to market its new second generation services in 2011 and 2012, without the risk of eating into the contingent equity and debt service reserve accounts previously established by Thermo.

The next stage in this war of the Export Credit Agencies may then come in the shape of Inmarsat’s upcoming Ka-band constellation, which we expect to involve 3 or 4 dedicated Ka-band satellites (costing at least $200M each including launch and insurance), providing oceanic coverage to complement and extend its existing FleetBroadband and SwiftBroadband services. With Inmarsat’s new satellites expected to be deployed between 2013 and 2015, an order could well come as soon as this summer, when Inmarsat announces its investor guidance for the next five years. More details of Inmarsat’s plans and our expectations for their future Ka-band revenues were given in the March 2010 report, available to subscribers to our MSS information service.

The competition to build Inmarsat’s new satellites appears once again to be shaping up as a US vs European battle with TAS, SS/L and Astrium all bidding for the contract. Will ECA financing once again prove to be a key factor in the decision, even though Inmarsat has much less need for a guarantee than Iridium and Globalstar? Certainly Inmarsat has not been reluctant to seek cheap government-backed funding when it is available, as seen in its recent European Investment Bank loan to fund the Alphasat project.

In summary, its clear that ECA financing is now going to play a very substantial role in supporting the MSS industry. As a result, the prospects for a long awaited consolidation of the sector appear to be diminishing. That is certainly good news for end users of MSS, as well as service providers and distributors, who will be able to take advantage of an increasing range of competitive alternatives. This is particularly true in the maritime and aeronautical markets, where Iridium is really the only potential MSS competitor for Inmarsat. Indeed Iridium’s ability to serve these markets gives it a much more sustainable long term position than some other systems, because most maritime and aeronautical opportunities are much less likely to be undermined by the buildout of terrestrial wireless systems.

Nevertheless, it also seems hard to justify the $8B+ of capital investment that has been committed by Iridium, Globalstar and all of the other players (Iridium NEXT, Globalstar 2, Inmarsat 4, Orbcomm, ICO/DBSD, SkyTerra and TerreStar) in an industry sector which only generated $1.1B in wholesale service revenues in 2009, and though growing healthily, doesn’t appear poised to breakout from the 8% annual growth rate seen in recent years. Unless new sources of value appear (spectrum monetization being the obvious option for several players) it appears unlikely that all of the MSS operators will be as successful as they and their investors hope.

Indeed the main story of the next decade is likely to be the competition between Iridium and Globalstar, as they both strive to be the second biggest player in an MSS market that will continue to be dominated by Inmarsat, while other providers may fall by the wayside. If Iridium can grow from its current 19% share of wholesale service revenues to about a 25% market share, or Globalstar can grow from its current 5% share to 15% or more (based on its lower cost satellite system), then that should be sufficient to achieve an attractive return on capital for either company. However, with Inmarsat holding a more than 60% market share today, it appears unlikely that both Iridium and Globalstar could achieve this level of success simultaneously.


Back to the future?

Posted in Financials, Iridium, Operators, Spectrum, TerreStar at 3:11 pm by timfarrar

Last week I attended the Iridium Partner Conference held in (a rather wet) Phoenix, AZ at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale. Ironically that was the very same hotel where the first demonstrations of the Iridium phone were made back in May 1998. 2010 is certainly shaping up to be just as significant for the MSS industry as was 1998, with the launch of the new TerreStar Genus phone just a few months away. We will then find out whether the new entrants are going to be able to mount a credible challenge to existing MSS operators, or whether they will experience an underwhelming customer response as Iridium and Globalstar did a decade ago. Our new profile of TerreStar has just been released, and discusses all these issues, including five year subscriber and revenue forecasts, along with an assessment of the value that might be realizable for ATC spectrum in the next few years.

At the conference itself, Iridium clarified that they intend to contract for the new NEXT constellation in mid-2010, and to ensure that they are fully funded at the same time. That would presumably involve a combination of bank loans guaranteed by export credit agencies and additional capital markets funding, totaling something between $1B and $1.2B – we would guess that they might need to raise of order $200M to $300M in high yield debt or convertible bonds in addition to the guaranteed bank loans. Interestingly, Iridium now regards advance funding from hosted payloads as “icing on the cake”, rather than as an essential component of its NEXT funding, allowing it more flexibility to consider projects which would provide an ongoing stream of revenues as opposed to just an upfront data purchase. Clearly the expectation is that by taking a “big bang” approach to its funding, Iridium will not only be able to persuade their distribution partners and customers that they will be around for the foreseeable future, but also that Iridium will close some of the EBITDA multiple discount on which their shares are trading compared to Inmarsat.

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