“A technology not to think about technology”

[Mise à jour: le 8 décembre, donc après cette interview, SES a annoncé rebaptiser SES Government Solutions en SES Space & Defense]

At the joint presentation on the Boeing site, you were introduced as a young man and you said yourself that you are not a young man. Is O3B mPower the project of your professional life? How important is it to you?

Ruy Pinto. – “It’s very important. No matter how old you are, I believe that no matter what you do, you have to make a difference. mPower will make a difference for SES and for many of our customers, for the market. And although I’m joking, that I’m not a young man anymore, I consider myself an energetic person. No, it’s not the project of my life, because I’m thinking about the next generation of mPower. You always have to look ahead, that’s what motivates you what makes you alive.

How can we make it clear that this generation of satellites is particularly important for SES?

“I would say it’s not the satellite, the subject. When we move with our devices, our iPad, our smartphone, we want to have the same experience. The person who goes on a cruise or flies to Dubai or the sailor who is on a boat and wants to keep in touch with his family wants to have the same experience, keep in touch, share their stories. At SES we say we empower people to tell their stories. We shouldn’t focus on the satellite, middle orbit and all that. But explain that a Luxembourg company has developed a technology that allows them not to think about technology. People should stop there for a minute because this technology allows them not to think about technology. What I will tell my neighbor who doesn’t know SES is that he can go on a cruise or wherever he wants and he will be able to use his device just like he uses it at home! That there are people who clarify this question for him. I am one of those people, we are those people.

The next generation will be four times as powerful.

Ruy Pinto, technology director, HIS

The next generation will be called “Enhanced O3b mPower”. What does that mean specifically?

“We’re looking for a real, simpler name, because that’s a technical term! The next generation will incorporate this ability to fully reconfigure the satellite in real time, but extend coverage to 50 degrees of satellites, truly global, all the way to the Arctic and Antarctic. It will be four times more powerful, instead of 10 Gbps you will have 40 Gbps! It’s an ecosystem, so we’ll continue to work on simplifying the architecture on-premises. Instead of two antennas, we might be able to get by with just one antenna. Or two instead of three.

Yes, because we don’t say it often, but O3B mPower is also a much more organized ground infrastructure!

“Yes! If you look at the classic ground installation, it was expensive and time-consuming to install. They had to send an engineer to the Pacific Islands for two or three days, for example. They need a backup in case something goes wrong. All of that has been eliminated! The cost of the terminals is 3 to 4 times cheaper. For the installation we no longer need a specialist engineer from SES. You need a technician but not an expert. If it is installed with a client, we can finish and configure everything remotely. Same goes for platforms. In the past we’ve integrated far too many platforms, more than ten. We want to reduce that to three. We want to offer choice but without the complexity. We also want to mix the endpoint and the access device. Sometimes even mix them up Coupling with a data center.

For the last five years, O3b mPower has been talked about almost exclusively as a business strategy. By mid-June you will have most of this constellation of satellites in orbit and operational. What’s next?

“First there is the next generation. We’re looking closely at the distribution of quantum keys as part of the project we’re leading with the European Space Agency.

It’s probably going to be a marginal business, isn’t it?

“We make a bet. Imagine every financial institution and every cloud operator or data provider needs these keys, you don’t need many satellites for distribution, say 12. But optical terminals, services and cybersecurity could become an interesting business within five to ten years.

And what about 6G? Or do you have this company OQ Technology in Luxembourg that is working on a certain constellation for the Internet of Things?

“One thing we’ve been investigating is whether there’s a future for direct-to-customer connections. What technology would allow us to deliver 5G or 6G directly to the consumer? We are also looking at how to embed mobile connectivity. There is the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) finalizing Release 17, the first to mention the satellite as part of the architecture rather than interoperability with satellites. We also see a future in the connection between the different layers of satellites in low, medium and high orbits. That is exciting! We want to be the best multi-orbit satellite operator specializing in medium orbits. Here we have a competitive advantage.

Does it bother you that Boeing is already ready for the market with the technology you developed?

“It’s philosophical. There are companies that jealously protect their technologies and try to build a very closed ecosystem. And there are others, like us, who are committed to an open ecosystem and the rapid adoption of new technologies. Would we have been willing to pay Boeing more for exclusive technology to curb competition? Or do you prefer faster and cheaper? Be the first to launch it? There are pros and cons. We believe in speed. Like the US government that bought it, we are defining and preparing the next generation. That’s how we think. We just have to be faster. Faster but not complacent. We really have to go.

Perhaps a word from the world of finance that will improve with your work to free up the spectrum that Americans need to deploy 5G.

“A big success.

But the slides you presented didn’t talk about your ambitions for SES. More of a market study. Where are your ambitions? Still around two billion euros per year, initially two thirds for the video part and one third for the data part?

“Our goal is to be first in the goals we have set, for consumers who need more speed than the low-orbit operators can promise, with the guarantee of quality of service and the flexibility to move. We should agree to keep investing to achieve this goal. Today it’s 60% for video, which is declining, and 40% for data. We’re thinking about it more and more separately. Government customers are becoming increasingly important. At the end of March we acquired Leonardo DRS for USD 450 million. 25% of our revenue comes from ‘government’, ‘mobility’ comes second and growing, and you have the more traditional fixed data.

But not up to the division of society?

“Nah. But look at the profitability of each area separately. There are different metrics for activity. With government services, you have longer contracts, you’re more bespoke, etc. We want to gain market share. Although it’s hard to say how the competition will develop.

A short version of this interview was written for the magazine issue of Paper Jam of the Month January 2023 published on 14.12.2022. The contents of the magazine are produced exclusively for the magazine. It will be published on the website to contribute to the full Paperjam archive.

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