MSUA’s Game Changers LIVE

May 26, 2021

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MSUA’s Game Changers LIVE

An interview with Blue Sky Network’s CEO, Tucker Morrison

Tucker Morrison, CEO of Blue Sky Network, joined Lisa Dreher, president of MSUA – Mobile Satellite Users Association, for a live, virtual interview. Together, they discussed how the mobile satellite industry can support the evolution of remote and global business operations.

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Lisa Dreher:

Welcome to MSUA’s Game-Changers Live, where we speak with satellite and mobile connectivity thought leaders about industry trends, new technologies, and share what you need to know about where satellite technology is headed in the future. Today, our guest is Tucker Morrison. He’s the CEO of Blue Sky Network. Welcome to the show, Tucker.

Can you begin just by giving us a little bit of background about yourself and Blue Sky Network?

Tucker Morrison:

I’ve been CEO of Blue Sky Network for just over a year. I’ve spent the bulk of my career working with small entrepreneurial-led organizations, taking them from an idea, maybe a smaller team, to something that’s been more of a growth-oriented business, and bringing in institutional investors, and helping to grow the sophistication of the business.

From a Blue Sky Network side, our company’s 20 years old. We were founded by a pilot, and we originally were involved in satellite tracking for helicopters and rescue missions. And two years ago, we acquired Applied Satellite Engineering, to bring some of the devices in house. So, now not only do we have the satellite connectivity and the service, but we also manufacture devices.

Lisa Dreher:

I want to dig into some of the topics on where mobile connectivity is headed. What do you believe is the most important role the satellite industry has to play in the future of mobile connectivity?

Tucker Morrison:

Well, I think on both a philosophical and a practical level, global capabilities are advancing at a rate faster than ever before. It really does impact all of our lives. More importantly, we’re seeing that the satellite infrastructure today is more reliable than ever. It covers a greater area. And as we’re dealing with certain events in our country right now, the need to be connected is very, very important. Our power grids are stretched thin. There are gaps to overcome, and we take that connectivity for granted. And so, while it’s nice to be able to go disconnect, what satellite connectivity today allows you to do, is be disconnected, but also be much more mobile and have the information available, be safe, be secure, and have a reliable link that really is unparalleled.

Lisa Dreher:

What are the components that Blue Sky Network is bringing about to make that connectivity possible?

Tucker Morrison:

Well, thanks for asking. So, on the device standpoint, we’ve got a number of devices that allow for maritime, aviation, or land mobile applications. We’ve got some that are dual-mode technology, so they’ll work with cellular and satellite, depending on the cost, depending on the network availability, but you always have a reliable backup in connection via satellite. What we’re headed for now, and we’re bringing out a new product here in the next quarter, is an L-band Iridium Service 100 transceiver, that will allow people to have streaming capabilities, faster speeds, 10 times faster than they’ve ever received before, and it’s a small form factor. One of the most important things that consumers or enterprise users want is a small form factor, a small antenna, and then it’s also very affordable. And that’s really the confluence of what our design team has been working on for the past 18 months.

Lisa Dreher:

Got it. So, what are some of the use cases that you see, that have a need for this kind of connectivity?

Tucker Morrison:

Well, so for us, we see it across a number of different uses. We see it in industrial centers, in utilities, public works projects, maybe at hydroelectric monitoring, where we can have a device onsite, it has voice capabilities, but it’s also collecting data, and able to broadcast that back to the headquarters of mission control center. From a portability standpoint, a similar type of use case, where now you’ve got a mobile satellite link, where you can have voice and your own proprietary applications, and streaming information. But again, it’s a smaller size, weight, and power device that is around a pound in weight, five-and-a-half by eight inches long, and the antenna is roughly the size of your fist.

Lisa Dreher:

Wow. That’s amazing. So, when you look at going into the next 12 to 24 months, what do you see as some of the most significant changes that we’re going to see in the satellite industry?

Tucker Morrison:

Well, I certainly hope for a lot greater adoption of satellite connectivity. And I think that we’ve overall, we’ve seen that, both on the consumer and the enterprise side. At Blue Sky Networks we’ve seen increased demand, but also really across the entire spectrum of satellite offerings. The industry has seen increased demand. There’s a number of new entrants, from SpaceX, m-Power, possibly a revitalization of OneWeb that are bringing Ku and Ka broadband speeds, where they are designed to bring them directly to the home.

And nearly 40% of the world still doesn’t have broadband connectivity. So, that’s the huge opportunity. I think that those more robust data streams are something that the consumer really demands. On the enterprise side, the vogue term has been machine-to-machine or IoT.

And we’re really starting to see a lot of adoption with that. Enterprises are becoming more sophisticated with their use of data, their synthesis of the data.

And now all of that is becoming capable in remote environments that was never even thought of before.

And then I would say, lastly, there’s a big desire to have beyond visual line of sight in the unmanned aerial vehicle market, drones.

And this is one of the fastest-growing business sectors, let alone a fast-growing business sector is aviation. I spent the past decade in aviation, and I know that there is a number of small companies and large companies alike that are seeking to have beyond visual line of sight capability. It provides for safety, it provides for reliability, and ultimately, to use your term, it will be a game-changer for the aviation market.

Lisa Dreher:

That’s really fascinating. So, I guess, bouncing off of that, where do you see this commercialization of space taking the satellite industry? How is that going to impact the future?

Tucker Morrison:

That’s a great question, and it really could go down a couple of paths. When I think about the commercialization of space, the first thing that comes to mind is commercial aviation, or commercial space travel, tourism. And I think that that’s going to open up a host of tangential opportunities for companies, but the space tourism piece doesn’t relate as much to the satellite industry.

Historically, these businesses have been backed by governments, and so trying to figure out that right blend of a public, private partnership still needs to be understood. From other applications, however, I think that you’ll see resource extraction, or research via satellite be much larger addressable markets. One can think of something as farfetched as asteroid mining, or pharmaceutical research in an anti-gravity environment. All of those are interesting applications, and these things now can be done in a commercialized environment. The availability of capital, the availability for insurance, and then sustainable markets are all three key things that will be required for the commercialization of space to really occur and thrive. And right now, that capital is readily available. There’s a lot of dry powder. There are investors that have a high-risk appetite, so you can check that box. I think that securing insurance for some of these innovative plans, that could be tough.

And ultimately, the sustainability of the markets, time will tell. Some of these entrepreneurs have great ideas. They are, by definition, innovators, and they’re being supported, but they need to execute on those plans. And so, we’ll really have to wait and see a little bit for that to happen. I mean, even in the last months, we’ve seen things like Virgin Galactic make strides, and there’s a big wait list that, when people start having to put their, to pay the full check and go into space, and how safe is it? All of that will then start to change things a lot more.

Lisa Dreher:

Yeah, no doubt. So, we are the Mobile Satellite Users Association, so we’re really interested in getting that user perspective. And when you think about providing satellite services, what are some of the main things that users of those satellite services need to take into consideration?

Tucker Morrison:

Well, there’s a couple things. I think, for me, reliability is always top of mind. It’s first and foremost. It’s reliability and safety. Some have said the three Cs of satellite have always converged around coverage, cost, and capacity.

And so, there’s the device. There’s the network reliability, and then what more can you do in providing an application. That’s what we do. We have a solution across all three sets. The device, we utilize the Iridium network, from our standpoint, and then we have a host of proprietary applications that work with your enterprise. The global infrastructure is now in place, and the affordability of satellite connectivity is much greater today than it was 5, 10, or 20 years ago.

And you’re getting faster speeds. More data payload is able to travel, and so businesses can now use this network more than they ever could in the past. So, one thing that’s really important is actually, it’s an education and a training piece. Because I can’t tell you how many times we still have potential customers, or even existing customers, who still think of satellite as the $1000 a month phone bill, and it’s only voice connectivity. So, it’s who’s using it, versus who’s the financial decision-maker. Sometimes it’s the same group, but oftentimes it’s two different groups. And we need to have a really strong educational narrative to explain that it’s affordable, that it isn’t the big satellite dish in your backyard, or a giant, non-portable phone or comm center.

It’s something that can fit in the backpack, can be hidden on a boat. It can be part of a drone, or an underwater, unmanned submersible. And that it’s not just affordable for us, what would be a relatively small monthly fee, but it’s how much you can improve your operations, that that’s what changes your business and your enterprise competitiveness.

Lisa Dreher:

When you think about the services that people would need to use to get this connectivity to places where there isn’t connectivity today, whether that’s the middle of the ocean, or someplace remote on land, what should they be looking for in terms of the services and solutions?

Tucker Morrison:

I’d say that, we focus a lot on L-band connectivity. It’s reliable, it’s cost-efficient, and that service is ideal for transmitting critical, low rate data over air, over the land, and in the sea. So, pretty much any business can use that L-band service, is something that meets their needs. Earlier, I talked about the direct-to-home, that’s broadband connectivity. And I think that that too will become more affordable, but it isn’t for everybody right now. Excuse me.

There is that combination of what level of affordability or subsidizing can go on from a government to bring connectivity to the masses, versus enterprises, which can afford it, but then they need to really hone in on which devices are best for them, which services are best for them. And ultimately, from an infrastructure-as-a-service, or a software-as-a-service, what type of solutions really optimize their business operations?

Lisa Dreher:

Are there certain criteria that they should be looking at, or data points, when they’re thinking about rolling out these solutions?

Tucker Morrison:

We focus on folks that have lone workers, that are, again, because of the nature of satellite connectivity, it’s people that are in a remote, austere environment, where coverage, or cell coverage just isn’t the most reliable solution.

And go back to things I said earlier about reliability, safety, and security. These are mission-critical operations, and people’s lives are often at stake, and they need to be connected in some way, shape, or form. And so, if you’ve got lone workers, or you’ve got remote workers, it’s important that they’ve got a connectivity link and the operation center can always track where they are, and ensure the safety of their personnel. That would be one case. For folks that are managing data, they want access to real-time up-links of that data, because they might be in emergency services, and waiting until an aircraft was blocked in and download it, or got it within range, critical care could have been provided for earlier.

From a machine-to-machine, or an equipment perspective, now we can monitor the assets in an aircraft that are vibrating or rotating, rather than just knowing if the airplane took off or landed, or it was blocked in or not. And so, it’s so much more information can now be monitored, and then potentially remotely configured to improve the operation of that asset, or that mission that is ongoing.

To make sure that the safety of the mission, and the reliability the mission, is secure and ensured.

Lisa Dreher:

Those are some exciting applications. And I know you’re talking about autonomous vehicles as an example, and I imagine that those will also increase the demand for that type of connectivity.

Tucker Morrison:

I certainly think it will. Whether it’s autonomous vehicles in the air, or autonomous vehicles on the road, we’re going to have to have a solution, in the event that the cellular or the radio connection is lost. Again, it might be a small aircraft, but if it goes crashing into something, or causes something else to cause an accident, many people could be injured, and same thing with autonomous driving. But ultimately, the secure Satcom link that could be a failsafe would be critical here.

Not just for the United States, you must think about the rest of the world. Because sometimes we’re very centric on what’s going on in our backyard, so to speak, but for the rest of the world, we don’t have the same grid and infrastructure, or they don’t have the same grid infrastructure that we have here.

Lisa Dreher:

When you think about the technologies that are needed to roll these types of solutions out, and as we expand the requirements, what are some of the new technologies that users should be aware of, or know about?

Tucker Morrison:

So, again, I would go back to that L-band technology. It’s got streaming services at an affordable rate, compared to broadband technology, and compared to traditional short burst data. We’re going to see mid-band streaming applications develop in the next 12 to 24 months, that will move beyond light streaming, to the need for Zoom capabilities, Microsoft Teams capabilities, in remote areas. We haven’t seen that before. And if the last year has taught us anything, now everybody’s going to need that. That becomes a table stakes characteristic, in order to operate your business. Additionally, you’re going to want to be able to remotely manage the devices and the terminals that you’ve got installed in those environments, whether it’s in a vehicle, in an aircraft, or a base camp that doesn’t have hardwired connectivity.

That’s everybody from shipping companies that now need to have drone programs, and they want to monitor the vessel, but they also want to monitor off ship, or if you’ve got construction equipment that’s running and want to remotely monitor it, but it needs to be upgraded or maintained, or if something went on in the operation of the asset outside of its normal operating envelope, alert someone in maintenance control that there’s an issue, and you can prevent an accident, or potentially even upgrade software so that the machine is operating at an optimized level. So, those types of new technologies are exactly what the purchaser and the end-user of satellite connectivity needs to know about. And again, I think there’s a big awareness campaign that needs to occur, and we’re trying to be part of that as well.

Lisa Dreher:

That’s good. Are there technologies or things that they need to start thinking about having in place now to be prepared to leverage some of the newer technologies?

Tucker Morrison:

From an end-user perspective, I don’t think as much. It really depends on what your enterprise is doing, and if you’re at a consumer level, what your use case is. Are you just a lone person or group that wants to go for a hike and be connected, or do you really want to have something that can optimize your business operations? Sometimes we say it’s relatively affordable, but a $1000 purchase price, or a couple of thousand dollars, and a couple hundred dollars a month charges, those can run up for an individual. To a business that might be able to utilize this equipment, but have thousands, if not millions of dollars of operational improvements, this is a small price to pay with a very, very short fuse for return on investment.

That’s where you’re really pivoting from just being a device company, to a solution provider. You’re showing and educating that customer how much more reliable or optimized their business can become with alternative connectivity channels. Time is money, but wasted time, time is also perishable, and you can’t get that time back.

So, if we can communicate more data, synthesize that data, and react to that data so that you can make more informed, improved business decisions, it improves the return on investment, and pays for itself in a very short order.

Lisa Dreher:

I think we often forget about opportunity cost because it’s not as easy to measure. Tucker, I really want to thank you for being here with us today and sharing your insights on satellite mobile connectivity.

Tucker Morrison:

Thank you very much for having us. It was a lot of fun and I really appreciate the opportunity.

Lisa Dreher:

Yes. Thank you so much. And I want to also thank the Mobile Satellite Users Association for hosting these sessions. To learn how to participate in a Game-Changers Live session, become a member of the MSUA, or receive our weekly newsletter with the latest satellite mobile insights, visit msua.org. And we’ll see you next time on MSUA’s Game-Changers Live.

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