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Thuraya Telecommunications Company: Making a Play for the DoD Market and Beyond


Defense Systems Journal had an opportunity recently to put questions to Thuruya Telecommunications Company CEO Samer Halawi.  

DSJ: Please describe Thuraya’s value proposition and the company’s current position in the SATCOM services market.

Thuraya is the world’s leader in the mobile satellite handheld market with 70% market share within our 140 country coverage area. We are the only MSS operator which has sold more than 600,000 satellite handheld phones. But we’re more than just a mobile satellite handheld provider. We offer an entire portfolio of space-based high-speed data, maritime, voice, tracking and aeronautical solutions that feature some of the world’s most advanced technologies.

Our value proposition is largely defined by our robust network. Anchored by our two commercial satellites (Thuraya-2 and Thuraya-3), the Thuraya network is amongst the world’s most powerful. Our high gain spot beams and Dynamic Resource Allocation (DRA) are quite unique features in the market place, offering continuous, uninterrupted coverage and quality communications wherever and whenever needed in coverage area. While some satellite networks suffer from congestion and call drop-out, the Thuraya network’s DRA is designed to respond to surges in traffic demand, and flexibly allocates resources to areas with heavy traffic ensuring our customers have uninterrupted communications service.

Additionally, Thuraya has been a pioneer in the delivery of a range of leading-edge products, which have always been a step ahead in terms of size, capabilities, performance and cost-effectiveness.

Our data product, Thuraya IP is the world’s smallest satellite broadband solution and the first to support 384 Kbps streaming. Being smaller than a notebook (at the size of A5, it is by far the smallest in the industry) means it is the solution of choice for those on the move. It also works with a range of antennas, including a vehicular antenna for those on the move; this is a unique feature not offered by other satellite operators whose terminals do not support this versatility.  Supporting up to 444 Kbps Standard IP and 384 Kbps Streaming IP, the Thuraya IP also features asymmetric streaming meaning consumers are only charged for the data usage they actually need and use. Again, another unique feature that ensures Thuraya IP is the product of choice across many industries.

We have an unbeatable track record of three generations of voice products. These include the world’s smallest and smartest satellite handheld and most recently, Thuraya XT, the world’s toughest satellite handheld. Thuraya XT is the only satellite handheld that is IP54/IK03 certified making it splash water, dust and shock proof. It has unique walk and talk capabilities that does not suffer from dropped calls and satellite handover, and is the only satellite handheld providing 60 Kbps data service and an optional GPS waypoint navigation.

We are also the only satellite network with GSM roaming. For the consumer, this means by simply inserting their GSM SIM card into their Thuraya handset, they can now take their GSM number anywhere in the world with them and by utilizing the Thuraya network, they will never be out of touch.

Thuraya is also making a strong entry into the maritime sector with a complete portfolio of solutions from low-end to large fleet marine segments. These include the Thuraya Marine, the Seagull 5000i and a soon-to-be-launched maritime broadband solution. Affordable, compact and very easy to install, offering competitive voice and data capabilities, Thuraya’s maritime offerings cater to the different maritime sectors, applications, and usages, in a very cost-effective manner.


DSJ: What are Thuraya’s U.S. market objectives, particularly with respect to the U.S. Government, DoD and civil?

While the US government uses a large amount of commercial satellite capacity, the majority of that capacity is needed in areas outside the confines of the Continental US.  US first responders over the past few years have been deployed from the US to Japan, Thailand, New Zealand etc., in support of disaster relief.  Humanitarian relief efforts, many supported by the US government, are at work in places like the Sudan and Yemen. The US naval, air and ground forces have supported NATO efforts in Libya and other areas during the “Arab Spring” events and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is critical to early deploying elements that they have solid high capacity bandwidth available in regions outside the US more so than in the US where the terrestrial infrastructure is much more developed or not destroyed.

Now, with the US Space Policy and the corresponding US DoD Space Strategy increasing the reliance on commercial and coalition space capabilities, Thuraya believes its cooperation with the US DoD will soar to new heights. Thuraya’s superior range of IP data and high-quality voice services, combined with a resilient network with dynamic resource allocation, mean the company is technologically and geographically capable of providing the US Government customer with a superior level of service at an extremely cost-effective price point.

Over the past five years the commercial satellite industry has worked closely with many US Government agencies to widen its ability to provide commercial service. Now close to 90% of US Forces and other NGOs work with MSS operators on a collaborative basis.  Thuraya aims to become a key strategic partner in those efforts and to increase that concept across the coalition to include other countries allied with NATO and the US.       


DSJ: What is Thuraya’s Government versus civil mix now, and what are your objectives in this regard for the future?

Thuraya prides itself on providing secure communications for the government and defense sector, tailored to meet specific needs.  The products are designed to completely integrate with incumbent solutions making them easy-to-use and cost-effective. In addition, our solutions are extensively used by civil government, for border management, diplomatic communications, disaster management, and to cater for governments’ universal service obligations.

Specific solutions have been designed to meet requirements of the government sector, such as the Comms on the Move (COTM) antenna designed for Thuraya IP. COTM is a compact and light-weight antenna, which can be roof-mounted on any vehicle. It is a two-axis antenna that efficiently enables up to 444 kbps Standard IP and up to 384 kbps Streaming IP services while a vehicle is traveling at high speed. It is the smallest antenna in the industry to accomplish high speed connectivity, and plugs directly into the same portable unit without requiring a specific set of hardware

Thuraya is also the pioneer of Thuraya NettedComms solution. Based on Thuraya’s world-class satellite network, the NettedComms service is a leading edge solution that integrates different communication technologies into a single closed user group, enabling users to communicate effectively. The service brings together Thuraya IP, Thuraya handhelds, public switch telephone networks, GSM and radio systems to provide robust netted communications - a powerful communications solution especially for government, military, homeland security, emergency services and disaster management applications.


DSJ: Which companies do you see as your main competitors today and in the future (18 months from now)?

Although there are a handful of competitors in the Mobile Satellite Services space, there’s increasing competition emanating from the Fixed Satellite Services market as well as the terrestrial communications world which is continuously expanding.

Having said this, Thuraya is well positioned to provide a full range of value communications solutions that work well, are easy to use, and are available when they are needed the most.

We will not stop here, and endeavor to keep pushing forward the boundaries of technology.


DSJ: Do you feel being based in the Middle East will present challenges with doing business with the US Government?  Why / why not?

Not at all. On the contrary, because of our presence in the region, our knowledge of the market, and the availability of our products and services where they are most required by the US Government, we are in a unique position to cater to the customer.

Our facilities are extremely secure and are largely comprised of American technology from the US Government’s main suppliers, such as Hughes Networks Systems. Our satellites are built by Boeing, probably the largest contractor to the US Government.

Today, the US Government uses our services for mission-critical applications, and we work flexibly with our partners and customers to provide them with a managed solution that fits their security requirements.

Whilst not having immediate US coverage, we do have full NATO coverage and our usage is growing in the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) area of operations. The US Pacific Command can use our services in the Indian Ocean in support of activities in Afghanistan at Diego Garcia (a major logistics base in the Indian Ocean, through the straits of Malacca etc).


DSJ:  It appears as though Thuraya has no CONUS coverage at present.  Is this current?  Do you intend to add it? 

At the moment, we believe that our coverage of the 140 countries where over two-thirds of the world’s population lives is very encompassing of the regions where MSS services are mostly used.

Having said this, there are requirements from markets outside of our coverage area, and we will soon be evaluating the market need and feasibility of extending our coverage, as part of our next generation network.      


DSJ: If not, do you feel you can effectively compete for US Government business with no CONUS coverage?

Yes. We believe that the US Government’s market requirements in areas that we cover are significant and increasing, and we believe we are the network of choice in those areas from the point of view of quality of service, flexibility and attractiveness of products and applications, and very importantly affordability and value of use.


DSJ:  From a price/competition standpoint, where does Thuraya stand vs Inmarsat and Iridium, both in terms of the handset and usage rates?

Thuraya is the market leader in the satellite handheld market. We have always had innovative, portable and world class handhelds within our voice portfolio which include the world’s smallest satellite handheld, S0-2510 and the world’s smartest satellite handheld, SG-2520. We are the only MSS operator to provide both satellite and GSM mode handhelds. Our latest handheld is Thuraya XT, which is the world’s toughest satellite handheld. Our handhelds are the only ones that offer walk-and-talk capability, they do not suffer from call drops, and we believe they represent a premium offering in the market at a price point that is competitive.

  DSJ:  What else does the Defense Systems Journal readership need to know about Thuraya?

Thuraya also offers a rich portfolio of Lease services able to accommodate external private networks such as Low Data Rate, SCADA, Asset Tracking, M2M, and situation awareness network lease services.

Our lease services are custom designed for special customer programs seeking guaranteed and assured access, high service quality, and network reliability, complemented with value and customized pricing packages.

Thuraya is also the only operator that offers dedicated bandwidth and throughput on the move. This is another example of pioneering engineering in collaboration with Hughes Network Systems and Boeing, whereby users are able to avail of guaranteed access to dedicated bandwidth resources while operating anywhere in the footprint of our two satellites.

Thuraya has an excellent track-record in working with various types of government consumers, both civil and defense, in different regions over the years. This has given us an experience that allows us to understand and meet the specific requirements of this highly specialized sector.