SpaceWatch Middle East conducted a series of interviews during the International Broadcast Convention 2016 in Amsterdam in September. This interview is with Mahdi Mehrabi, Chief Technical Officer and Managing Director Asia of North Telecom.
North Telecom is a big player in the satellite communications sector in the ME region, a very contested market. What is your current growth strategy in the region or in the world? What are the main territorial markets and industry segments you see in the upcoming years?
North Telecom has been incorporated for almost 10 years. Established in Dubai, the founders were from technology, networking and telecommunication backgrounds, using satellite more for Internet connectivity.
The unprecedented growth of the Internet and mobile communications was the main driver to use satellite to fill the gaps in infrastructure in underdeveloped areas like the Middle East.
Satellite was quick and easy to deploy when other means of connectivity was almost absent in the region.
Fast forward a couple of years and, through private and government sector investment, we were witnessing significant growth in terrestrial infrastructure in the region. This is continuing today. The immediate consequence of this was to push satellite communication outside of urban areas.
These disruptive technologies proved themselves as a cost effective and reliable substitute for satellite communication with less OPEX and more bandwidth, which helped players to expand their networks as well as gaining fast access to technology.
Satellite has since found its niche in the market. It is highly suited to vertical markets where other technologies cannot compete with satellite’s remarkable value proposition, or where other terrestrial technologies cannot be deployed.
We see Mobility as a key opportunity for satellite, especially with growing demands of airliners as well as social media and other areas such as maritime, trains, cargo and vehicle fleets that operate mainly in remote areas. In these sectors, there is a reliance upon satellite connectivity.
There is also opportunity in emerging concepts such as the Internet of the Things (IoT). Satellite needs to concentrate on the advancement on M2M connectivity, mission critical connectivity, and CMS concept in general.
Video broadcasting is another vertical which has its potential, despite the rise of other technologies such as IPTV and OTT. Video broadcasting remains one of the core applications of the satellite industry and will continue to be for at least another 10 years or so.
Press freedom and the human right to free media is another main driver for satellite. It enables people to address the basic right of all humankind to gain access to the news and information with equality. It cannot be easily replaced by other technology in a short period of time.
What product and/or technology that you have or are developing that you think gives you the competitive advantage over your rivals?
We have come a long way in the past six years, overhauling the initial strategy of using satellite mainly for Internet types of application, which was the mainstream for satellite. We could foresee the change and transformation and we made huge investments to transform the company. We changed the concept of a service provider in general, from just retailing satellite connectivity to a think-tank and a system with its own value proposition inside the supply chain.
We have had a lot of tough times. It isn’t easy to go against the crowd, but we are eagerly pursuing our target and this has enabled us to get to where we are today.
In a nutshell, at North Telecom everybody is committed and dedicated to the goal of company. It doesn’t matter who you are – you have a say.
As a satellite service provider, our goal is always to concentrate on our main ingredient which is satellite and to set our strategy towards how we can serve more verticals with satellite technology. We are constantly looking for where gaps in connectivity exist and which untapped areas are can be targeted.
We are used to thinking ‘out of the box’ and see the things in a different way. We try to be unique in our approach. We truly believe that there is enough opportunity in the market – you just need to look at things a little differently.
What are your company highlights at IBC 2016?
Having all the players under a single roof, IBC is a great opportunity for every company to meet up with their partners and to learn from each other. Exhibiting in different events around the globe isn’t just part of our marketing and brand awareness strategy, it is a networking opportunity. It gives us an important chance to us to visit our partners all around the world, sharing our prospects as well as our difficulties.
At IBC 2016, we have been talking about starting our Asia Pacific operation. We are also demonstrating North Telecom’s capacity to support the industry in future prospects such as HTS satellites, IoT and mobility, which all require a more collaborative effort across the supply chain. We are also looking at how, as an industry, we can cut unnecessary costs and have more cost effective products for our market.
What are the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities in the Middle East market in the coming years?
The Middle East market is not isolated from the global market. It is affected by the same threats and opportunities that the global market is facing such as excess capacity, demand creation and disruptive technology.
The Middle East, as a region, is mainly driven by the oil and gas sector, which is traditionally a big user of satellite. However, oil and gas companies have been forced to shut down many projects, reducing demand for satellite communications as they deal with budget deficits and austerity.
That said, we are sitting on huge potential which is yet to be realised. The untapped and underserved areas all across the Middle East region needs agile and enthusiastic players, more transparency and more private international firms to get involved in commercial satellite applications.
It is essential to ease the regulation for commercial sectors to bring their expertise into the region. We need to learn from the experience of European countries and countries such as Singapore with their policy of freedom of communication, whilst having regulation that works towards their sovereignty and security. This is a good example for all of us in Middle East.
SpaceWatch Middle East thanks Mahdi Mehrabi, Chief Technical Officer and Managing Director Asia of North Telecom, for the interview.