Monday, March 30, 2009

The Best and Worst of Satellite 2009

GRID Media partner and long-time industry publisher Scott Chase was a blur last week at the Satellite 2009 conference in Washington, DC.

As chairman of the premier industry trade show in the satellite industry, Chase played host to more than 6,000 attendees, several hundred exhibitors and an affiliated organization that co-located its annual meeting. All the while, Chase set aside time to chat up the journalists, analysts and bloggers milling about the press room, as well as the other contacts he bumped into while hustling from one event to another.

And hustling sure is the right word. Unlike other trade shows which have seen an economy-induced pull back in attendee and exhibitor participation, Satellite 2009 continues to roll forward. My colleague Jeff Majka addressed the reasons for stability in the satellite market in this interesting post.

For me, Satellite 2009 was defined by two panel discussions – one which was truly exceptional and a second which fell horribly flat.

Let’s start with the good. Mobile Satellite Users Association (MSUA) president Tim Farrar welcomed the CEOs from the seven largest providers of mobile satellite services to the stage for a discussion of what’s next for the industry. These CEO pow-wows are typically rather light fare, with generic and bland comments about growth strategies and a healthy respect for the competition.

Not in this case. While the participants were all professional, it was evident that there wasn’t much in the way of affection among these mobile satellite industry hot shots. A couple of participants took a swipe at Globalstar’s Jay Monroe referring to his company’s recently closed financing deal as a government bailout.

There was also a rather heated discussion about the viability of targeting the consumer market with a satellite phone service. Monroe chided Iridium’s Matt Desch for questioning their strategy, explaining he simply does not understand Globalstar’s business model.

It was also clear that Inmarsat’s Andy Sukawaty (a Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) client) sits in the enviable position of having already funded and built out a next generation satellite network. Sukawaty reminded his competitors of this fact several times during the discussion, and emphasized his company’s focus on developing and marketing customer applications.

In comparison, the panel discussion about communications on the move painfully subjected the audience to an hour’s worth of vendor PowerPoint presentations.

While MSUA’s Farrar was skilled in moderation of his panel, Jay Gullish from Futron Corporation merely stumbled through an introduction of each speaker and then let them prattle away about their solutions. No moderator preparation. No interactive discussion. And not much in the way of audience Q&A.

This was quite a disappointment as the quality of the companies represented on the panel was outstanding.

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