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Interview with Kay Sears, Senior Vice-President, Marketing & Business Development, Intelsat General
by Virgil Labrador

At the recent ISCe 2007 Conference and Expo, the then-Managing Editor of MilsatMagazine, Virgil Labrador, spoke with Kay Sears, Senior Vice-President, Marketing & Business Development, Intelsat General.

Intelsat General is a wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat, the largest satellite operator in the world after its merger with PanAmSat. Intelsat General focuses on the military and government markets. In a candid interview Sears talked about the prospects of the government and military market and how Intelsat General is approaching this important sector.

Excerpts from the informative interview follow…

Q. For the benefit of our readers, can you offer a brief background on what Intelsat General does?

A. Certainly. Intelsat General is a wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat Corporation. We’re a US company based in Bethesda, Maryland. Our primary focus is to develop rapid solutions for the US military, its allies and the civil government agencies of the US. So it was formed as kind of a sector company to go after a particular niche, that being the government sector, to really solve some of their unique communications requirements.

Q. You came from PanAmSat, among other jobs that you’ve had in the industry. How did the merger of PanAmSat and Intelsat impact on your current company’s position?

A. I think it is worth talking a little bit about the merger, because I think it is one of the most success mergers that I have been part of in my career. They really brought two companies together that had different cultures and different histories. They were able to blend those cultures and develop something that, I think, is going to benefit the satellite industry and all of our customers. And what I mean by that is not only the increased infrastructure when you bring two major satellite operators together. We have 52 satellites, 8 teleports around the world, and a very extensive fiber infrastructure. Just the sheer capabilities that we are now able to bring to bear on the market have increased twofold. As we efficiently manage that, and make sense of that entire infrastructure, we’re able to offer new services and, I think, respond more rapidly to the demands of the marketplace. The merger is going to end up being a big benefit for our different customers, including the broadcasters the data providers, and the government sector.

Q. Do you cover the entire world, or do you just focus on the US military market?

A. We do focus our services all around the globe. We support the US military and it is certainly our biggest customer, and as they deploy around the world, we provide communication solutions for them. We also serve other government militaries, like the Australian Defense Force, the Japanese Defense Force, other foreign militaries and NATO are other good examples. There is a strong push for the militaries, especially the allied militaries, to interoperate and communicate more effectively together. By using a commercial operator, we can provide common platforms across military systems to help further that interoperability and exchange of critical information.

Q. Do you see opportunities in the military markets outside of the US and Europe?

A. Absolutely. I think that you have a lot of countries with smaller militaries but still rapidly growing communications needs. If you look at Poland or you at some of the Czech Republics, they have developing militaries; they have forces that need increased communication services. You’ll find that they participate in peacekeeping operations, and they’re deployed to Afghanistan to help in different conflict areas, and they all need communications. Some of their communications needs can go through NATO, but beyond what NATO provides, they need to reach back to their own countries for typical enterprise type applications, morale and welfare, as well as to connect to their families. Those are some of the new demand areas that we see in Eastern Europe.

Q. Talk about your recent contracts with SATCOM II and the IRIS project?

A. SATCOM II is a follow on contract to the General Services Administration, what we call the fixed satellite side. That contract is a very popular vehicle for lots of government agencies, really outside of the DoD, although the DoD can use the GSA. We find a lot of the civilian agencies use the GSA to buy their communications services, because they don’t have that expertise—they don’t have a group of satellite engineers, nor should they.

The GSA contract and the SATCOM II are going to provide a broad range of services, from satellite bandwidth to turnkey solutions to emergency response communications and vehicles. You can buy almost anything on that contract. I think one of the agencies that will probably end up using SATCOM II is the Department of Homeland Security. They’re a relatively new agency and they don’t have a huge amount of communication expertise. They’ll go to the GSA with their requirements and those will be completed through the SATCOM II. There are a lot of good vendors that are now on that contracting vehicle and we hope to see a lot of business coming through that.

Your other question was about IRIS. IRIS is very exciting for us. IRIS is an approved JCTD or Joint Concept Technology Demonstration, and it is a way for the DoD and other agencies to rapidly procure technology. In this case, we are going to be demonstrating and testing layer three IP routing in space. IRIS will fly on the IS-14 satellite in early 2009. It will be interconnected with one C-band and 2 Ku-band transponders. By moving the routing from the ground to the sky, we are hoping to see a dramatic improvement in throughput and the types of communications services that can take place. For example, the way you would get a message out right now to different parts of the military, maybe the Navy being at sea in the Atlantic, you would have an army forward deployed into Europe, and you would have the Pentagon back in the United States. When you want to communicate a message to those three different groups, you are making individual connections to each one.

When you put the router on board the satellite, you can send one message and it gets distributed to all three of those continents and users at once. Just the power of IP on the satellite will enable some types of communications, which are very onerous today. There’s a lot of latency and double hops and it makes it very difficult to get messages out in a broad way to hundreds and hundreds of users. IRIS will solve that problem.

We are very excited for this new technology to fly. We will be working very closely with DoD constituents who are interested in the technology. There will be a very formal testing period demonstration period that will last from about 3-6 months. From those results, we will be able to go out to the community and say this is what IP routing can do for you in the future.

Q. You are also spearheading a “Hosted Payload” program. Can you explain this program?

A. IRIS is an example of a hosted payload. Hosted payloads are a new way of using commercial satellites to solve tactical missions or science missions. Or, in the case of IRIS, to test a technology that will eventually be a part of our infrastructure going forward, or the DOD’ s infrastructure going forward. But they want to test it early to develop a concept of operations around, in this case, IP routing in space.

It could be a NOA sensor that needs to fly, or couldn’t fly, because something wasn’t ready in time. Hosted payloads are a way to take advantage of Intelsat’s continuous replenishment of our fleet. We are launching satellites and buying new satellites and new programs about every four to six months. Each one of those new programs is an opportunity to put a payload on that spacecraft to do something unique. In the case of the military, that could be as tactical gap filler. If they see that they are running out of a particular type of communications service, they can use one of our upcoming satellites to put a payload on it to fill that gap.

There are many good reasons why the DoD and other agencies can take advantage of this continuous cycle with Intelsat launching and building satellites. I think that it is going to be another way that we can partner with our government friends to solve problems. It can be very rapid, and it can be very cost effective, it really becomes a win-win for the government and our industry.

Q. It looks like your company has a lot on its plate. What can we expect from Intelsat General in the near future?

A. I think we are operating under a couple of mantras right now. The first one, and probably the one that has been reiterated during the conferences and the shows that we have attended recently, is that if you are not responsive, you’re irrelevant to the situation. We are challenged as a satellite provider to be as responsive as possible. I think you’ll see Intelsat General developing solutions around this mantra that we have got to be responsive. Otherwise, we are not going to be relevant to what’s going on in our community. The hosted payload ideas, and some of the other projects we’re working on, such as IRIS, are ways that we can become incredibly responsive to our customers and solve their problems. And I think that’s what driving us—I think it’s a really urgent time. The DoD needs contractors that are going to be really responsive. There’s our challenge.

Kay Sears, is the Senior Vice-President, Marketing & Business Development for Intelsat General. She has as an extensive background working for various companies, including PanAmSat’s government business subsidiary, G2 Satellite Solutions. Prior to that, she served as the Vice President of Government Services at Verestar where she launched Verestar’s government services business.