In this episode of the Viasat Podcast, host Alex Miller speaks with Keven Lippert, Viasat chief commercial officer, about the company’s business in the UK. Viasat has been active in the UK for a number of years — particularly with the Ministry of Defence — and is growing its footprint with new offices, more personnel and a pending acquisition that will greatly enhance its presence in the country.
Topics covered in this podcast episode include:
- A bit of history on Viasat in the UK, including our acquisition of Stonewood in 2010 that has been the foundation for the encryption products we provide for the UK Ministry of Defence;
- How the acquisition of RigNet in 2021 has also expanded our presence in Scotland with products and services for the energy industry;
- The upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation and how the second satellite over Europe, the Middle East and Africa represents another large investment in broadband infrastructure in the UK;
- The company’s new office in the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and our relationship with the UK Space Agency as well as the European Space Agency;
- The pending acquisition of global satellite operator Inmarsat and how it will enhance our network in the UK and beyond.
Alex Miller: Hello and welcome to the Viasat podcast. I’m Alex Miller with the editorial team, and in this episode we’re focusing on the company’s businesses in the United Kingdom, and we’re fortunate to have with us today Keven Lippert, Viasat Chief Commercial Officer, to walk us through it. So Keven’s been focusing on ViaSat-2t’s international growth strategy over the past few years, as well as working on mergers and acquisitions that’s part of that. So welcome to the podcast, Keven. Great to have you here.
Keven Lippert: Thanks, Alex. Appreciate having me.
Alex Miller: All right. Well, getting right into it, I wanted to ask if you can give us an overview of Viasat history in the UK, what the origin of our business there has been and how it’s grown and diversified over the years.
Keven Lippert: Sure. Thanks. You know, we’ve seen the UK as a great opportunity for our business across the board, for — and talent — for quite some time. Our first entry into the UK was in 2010. We bought a company named Stonewood, which was primarily focused on encryption at rest products for the UK MOD. And that was a good entree as a way to not only build a stronger relationship with the UK MOD, but also to establish a base to leverage the great technology talent that exists in the UK today.
Alex Miller: Okay. So as you mentioned, Viasat’s been primarily been focused on the UK defense sector, although we do have some residential subscribers in the country. But how have we partnered with the U.K. government and the MOD over the years and how strong is that relationship?
Keven Lippert: Yeah actually I’ll touch on both of those. I think with the UK MOD, obviously we’ve been building on our relationship from the Stonewood acquisition over the last 12 years, but we actually architected the ViaSat-3 network in a way, keeping in mind not just the US DOD but also the UK MOD as well, looking towards a bigger and bigger relationship with them over time. And in terms of other things that we have going on in the UK, we also — with the acquisition of the remaining part of KA-SAT in 2021, we actually have thousands of residential small business and local government customers in the UK providing pretty vital broadband, mostly in rural areas. And then with the acquisition of RigNet in 2021, we also brought on highly skilled technical and operational team in Scotland. So together with our existing UK employees as well as the RigNet employees that came over, we actually have well over 100 employees in the UK today and that gives us a really strong foundation, I think, to build a future on as part of the Inmarsat acquisition.
Alex Miller: So with the second of our ViaSat-3 satellites going to be launched over EMEA and including the UK, of course, so what future opportunities do we see in the UK market and how are we going to contribute to the region’s economy specifically in the space and telecom sectors?
Keven Lippert: Yes. There’s actually lots, lots of opportunities here. So first and foremost is really leveraging the strong talent base in the UK from a technology perspective, which aligns really well with the UK’s space strategy to maintain themselves as a leader in space in the future. And as part of our ViaSat-3 network, we’re making significant investments in broadband infrastructure and technologies, our fibre network buildout for our satellite access nodes, which many of them are actually in the UK, as well as our satellite control centre. So we actually had announced I think a number a couple of years ago, a £300 million investment in the UK as part of this, which is well underway. And as we just announced, an example of that is the TT&C satellite tracking system installation we announced, I think it was last week. And as part of the ViaSat-3, network, we’re going to be bringing a lot of additional capacity to the UK market for residential, small business and local government users who will be able to take advantage of our higher speed, better value plans on the ViaSat-3 network. So that’s really exciting that we’re obviously being able to leverage a lot of things in the UK, but also being able to give back as well.
Alex Miller: When we think about some of those unserved residential customers here in the US, we’ve got some big spaces that the fixed broadband providers don’t go to. What is that like in the UK? Do you have an idea?
Keven Lippert: Yeah. I mean, it’s fairly similar. Every country is different. But in every country, you’re going to have areas where it’s just not economical for people to build fibre or upgrade DSL. So there’s, there’s always going to be an opportunity for satellite providers to be providing good value, higher-speed plans that the people appreciate instead of potentially relying on no broadband or very, very slow DSL, which really doesn’t function anymore when you have people streaming multiple devices and trying to do Zoom calls which practically everyone’s doing now.
Alex Miller: Yeah. So I also wanted to ask about … we recently opened an office in the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. I was wondering if you could tell us what’s that about? What’s that mission and purpose there? And why did we want to open an office there?
Keven Lippert: Yeah, we’re really excited about that for the opportunity to be part of that. Harwell is actually the home to the largest concentration of space expertise in the UK. It’s actually over, I think 100 public and private organizations, including the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency, and its primary focus is just sort of bringing these organizations together to promote and support the UK’s space strategy. So us having an office there and being part of that and being able to collaborate and partner with those types of organizations is really powerful for both Viasat and we hope for the UK space strategy.
Alex Miller: Yeah. It’s neat. I was just looking at some pictures of it. It’s a really interesting looking campus at this really big doughnut shaped office building.
Keven Lippert: Yeah, there’s lots of exciting things going on in the UK right now and we’re just … we’re excited to be part of it.
Alex Miller: All right. Well, I wanted to switch over and talk about an even bigger thing that’s going on in the UK, the Inmarsat acquisition. There’s still a long way to go before this is finalized. But I wanted to ask a little bit about how this is going to fit into Viasat’s broader growth and long term strategy in the U.K. market.
Keven Lippert: I think there’s lots of benefits for the combination between Viasat and Inmarsat, but I think I’ll just touch on three that are pretty important. One is Inmarsat’s been a global company for a long time. That’s part of what our mission is right now. So it gives us global coverage sooner than we would have otherwise with ViaSat-3, which is really important, especially in some of the mobility markets. It also gives us backup satellites. Right. So knock on wood, something happens with one of our ViaSat-3 satellites, having other satellites that we can rely on for our business to keep it more resilient is really important. It’s really uneconomical to launch a spare satellite in space or build one on the ground. So having a combination where we can leverage each other’s satellites as backups is really important. And obviously, the global part, you know, diversity in business, there’s actually not a lot of overlap between Viasat and Inmarsat’s business. We’re each strong in different markets, so that gives us a lot of capabilities to bring ViaSat-3, capacity into different markets more quickly and also gives us more diversity in terms of things that may happen in certain markets over time. We’ve seen certain markets go up and certain markets go down as part of COVID, for example, right? So having more diversity in your business is always a good thing. And then I think the last thing is really important is Viasat has a very, very strong financial future as part of ViaSat-3. Very, very excited about that. And the Inmarsat transaction in terms of where they’re at financially just makes us even stronger. And it really gives us a lot more financial firepower in the future, especially — even though these markets are growing rapidly, they’re also facing additional competition. So I think having that additional financial strength in the future is really, really exciting and makes me feel much better about about Viasat’s future.
Alex Miller: All right, Keven. Well, you mentioned that there’s not a ton of overlap between what Viasat and Inmarsat are doing. So what are some of the things that Viasat brings to the table? And Inmarsat, if you can drill down just a little bit more into some of those details.
Keven Lippert: Yeah, for sure. I think, you know, on the Inmarsat side, for example, they’re very strong in maritime. That was the original sort of business focus of Inmarsat. And that’s a very good market to be in, as well as IoT, which is actually outside of L-band IoT, which is actually outside of broadband. So again, just more diversity. On the Viasat side, as many people understand, we are very technology focused, it’s the foundation, sort of lifeblood of our business. And, you know, Inmarsat were on the other hand, they actually outsource — they develop the specifications and architecture, but they outsource all of their technology. And so bringing that innovation and vertical integration to the Inmarsat business, I think is pretty exciting, I think, for a lot of us. And then on our side as well, we’re very strong on the consumer side. And that’s a business that Inmarsat has actually never been in. So it just really gives us a lot more diversity and ability to enter into and grow additional markets over time together.
Alex Miller: All right. That makes a lot of sense. It sounds like there’s definitely some synergy there. So another thing that Viasat Inmarsat recently announced was a package of agreements with BEIS, the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Can you tell us a little bit about the significance of that?
Keven Lippert: Yeah, it was a very important part of the approval process, a little different than in the US, — US and UK, a little different there, you know, in the US, they don’t necessarily have undertakings like they do here or they do there in the UK. And it’s really around focus on financial obligations that we will have as part of this acquisition and other obligations around employment and maintaining operations in the UK. So getting that done was really, really important. It was significant. We had a very, very cooperative I think relationship with BEIS as part of that and a lot of them weren’t easy things to agree to, but they were very cooperative and thoughtful. So we appreciated that and we were excited to get that completed and announced.
Alex Miller: All right. Well, that sounds like that contributes also to that national space strategy in the U.K., right?
Keven Lippert: Yeah. So that within the context of the U.K. space strategy, I think BEIS was really looking to make sure that this wasn’t a step backwards, that this acquisition was going to be a step backwards for them. And I think over time, we’ve obviously agreed to a lot of these things and undertakings. But what I would expect is in terms of Viasat-Inmarsat combinations, contribution to the U.K. space strategy should be well above what we’ve agreed to in the undertakings. And that’s really just around the additional capabilities and strength that a Viasat-Inmarsat combination really is going to provide to the U.K. space strategy. And a lot of that’s around our ability and flexibility to innovate and bring our business model to the U.K. and be a resource and good partner to the U.K. government.
Alex Miller: All right. So where is the Inmarsat deal at now? What’s next? What’s the approval process look like to get it closed?
Keven Lippert: Yeah. So there’s three main approvals that we that we need to get as part of the process. The first thing that’s going to happen is the shareholder approval which should happen in the next month or two. And then we also have to get antitrust approvals from various countries around the world, as well as communication license approvals from various countries around the world. So a lot to do there. But we remain confident — we wouldn’t have signed the deal unless we thought we could get all these done. So we’re working hard and hope to have good news to announce soon.
Alex Miller: And I’m just going to jump in here and note that since we recorded this episode, that Viasat received stockholder approval for the proposed acquisition of Inmarsat on June 21 and that the company expects the transaction to close in the second half of calendar year 22 subject to other regulatory approvals and clearances
Alex Miller: Okay. All right. Well, it sounds like there’s just a great deal of really interesting stuff that’s going to be going on in the UK going forward. And I really appreciate you taking the time to walk us through it and we’ll have you back when some of this stuff is starting to roll. I’m sure it’s going to be really interesting.
Keven Lippert: Yeah, anytime. Always here to help.