IFC Providers Look to Consolidation to Expand Networks

By Juliet Van Wagenen | July 28, 2016
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Global Eagle has closed the acquisition of a maritime connectivity provider in order to expand coverage for IFC customers and explore new verticals. Photo: Business Wire

[Avionics Today 07-28-2016] In-Flight Connectivity and Entertainment (IFEC) solutions provider Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) completed its $550-million acquisition of satellite connectivity provider Emerging Markets Communications (EMC) July 27, marking one move in a larger trend that sees operators consolidating to expand across mobility markets.

EMC specializes in providing maritime connectivity. Combining the companies’ networks will allow GEE to expand coverage across both the In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) market, in which they currently have more than 200 airline customers, and into maritime, where the company anticipates ample opportunities for growth.

GEE has acquired nine different companies since forming in January 2013, including Row44 and Advanced Inflight Alliance, but the EMC acquisition is the largest to date and will move the company into a new vertical. The acquisition is one in a series of similar acquisitions across the industry, such as Panasonic’s recent decision to purchase ITC Global, a provider of remote connectivity for the energy, mining and maritime markets, which closed in August 2015. Honeywell Aerospace also acquired IFC software optimization provider Satcom1 in November 2015.

“[The EMC acquisition] is a sign that you can’t be a singularly focused entity anymore,” Brad Grady, senior analyst at NSR, told Avionics Magazine. Grady points to the Panasonic-ITC acquisition as one of the first examples of two cross-vertical companies merging together to get higher network utilization, more mobility traffic, etc. While EMC’s 2015 acquisition of MTN Communications, a provider of remote and maritime communications and content, is an example of a more “traditional” type of consolidation in the mobile connectivity market, adding EMC+MTN+GEE together aims to achieve those same synergies for both capacity and application development, he explained.

These types of acquisitions promise synergies across the companies and networks that the companies tout to be worth millions. With EMC, GEE expects to realize synergies of $15 million in 2017, growing to $40 million in 2018. According to the company in a statement released following the acquisition, a major source of savings is expected to come from network efficiencies, including the ability to optimize bandwidth costs through a consolidation of existing network assets, including space segment and ground infrastructure, as well as better capacity use.

“Entering the adjacent maritime market enables GEE to leverage its existing aviation network infrastructure, suppliers and media agreements to achieve efficiencies and cost savings,” Josh Marks, GEE’s executive vice president of aviation told Avionics Magazine in an interview following the close of the acquisition. “We’ll benefit from better geographic utilization of our satellite spectrum, higher utilization of our transponders and spot beams, and consolidation of our combined teleport and ground network infrastructure. We will start to see benefits almost immediately and we expect to fully realize these network efficiencies over the next couple of years.”

For current commercial airline customers, Marks said the acquisition of EMCs capacity would allow a greater scale, network coverage and bandwidth capacity for global customers.

“There are strong opportunities to leverage strength between commercial airlines, cruise lines and ferries. We can reach passengers when they travel by air or sea, which increases our advertising opportunities,” said Marks.

But while building capacity is the immediate benefit of the acquisition, building content for mobility markets is the residual driver for the deal. Grady notes how all the pieces of GEE’s acquisitions will likely come together to enable a stronger content portfolio for the company.

“What you develop for an airplane seatback you can also develop for a cabin entertainment solution on a cruise ship or a merchant vessel … MTN is a very strong maritime content company, such as providing live broadcast TV to all the major cruise ships. GEE has very strong content licensing rights in the aeronautical markets as well as a very strong content portfolio for seatback IFE in aero. EMC adds a focus on other enterprise mobility plays such as offshore,” Grady said. “Today it’s about the capacity, tomorrow it’s about amortizing the expenses of content and application development, etc.”

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