Advanced Television

Intelsat contemplates next steps

April 10, 2024

It was recently reported how Intelsat was facing up to its future and how it would compete with rival satellite operators.

More detail has now emerged. Intelsat has been through something of a nightmare this past few years, emerging – more or less – from Chapter 11 bankruptcy with much reduced interest obligations and the recipient of the FCC’s almost $5 billion in compensation for its C-band frequencies. One key indicator is that Intelsat’s current owners could move the company towards an IPO probably around 2027.

Intelsat filed for bankruptcy in May 2020. The problem is that today’s world is a very different beast from 2020: SpaceX has grown massively; OneWeb has deployed its global mega-constellation; Telesat’s Lightspeed low Earth (LEO) orbiting system is now under manufacture; while players such as AST SpaceMobile and Rivada Space Networks are all seeking to eat Intelsat’s lunch.

Intelsat does not have a Mid-Earth (MEO) or Low-Earth (LEO) offering, although it has signed capacity agreements with OneWeb as a gap-filler. More than a year ago, Intelsat was in discussions with arch-rival SES about a merger. SES operates its mPOWER MEO constellation. That fell through, but it means Intelsat’s impending decisions are all the more vital.

The options distil down to two: (1) invest $1 billion or so and build out its own MEO system to compete directly with the likes of SES and Starlink, or (2) invest in a series of minor players which would give it the orbiting flexibility it needs.

Another element might come into the equation, which could see Intelsat in a joint-venture with a third party in a MEO system. Intelsat is known to have issued Requests for Proposals (RFPs) to industry manufacturers as well as holding talks with current and potential clients about their own growing demands.

Intelsat CEO David Wajsgras admitted at last month’s Satellite 2024 event in Washington that a decision – one way or another – would be made during this quarter-year.

“We have other parties also interested in what we’re doing that may also want to support the financial structure for how this rolls out,” Wajsgras told delegates.

He also confirmed that Intelsat was likely to be an investor in a Direct-To-Device business, and added that one discussion would probably lead to an investment with a company that already had strong agreements with Mobile Network Operators.

“We are not only going to invest with them, we’re going to work on further development direct-to-handset using our spectrum holdings. We think that will give us a unique position in this market,” noted Wajsgras.

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