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When Was the Last Time You Saved the World?

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, April 24, 2014
Our industry helps feed, educate, secure, inform and protect our world every day – and practically nobody knows about it.  That’s a problem.  If  your customers don’t know what you do for them, they are liable to do something silly to you…

Like forgetting to include you in billions of dollars or euros of public funding for broadband…

Or assuming you don’t need radio frequencies like C-Band any more…

Or buying less from you this year than last year.
SSPI wants to change how we tell the amazing story of satellite to people who influence the future of our industry.  We are preparing briefing materials for regulators, which our colleagues at other associations will bring to their lobbying battles.  Those same materials will inform end-users, educators and the next generation about the irreplaceable contributions we make to the economy, government and human welfare.  

We need your help.  Share your company’s case studies with SSPI at  We are looking in particular for use cases that refer to C-band, but any story that makes clear the impact of our services is welcome.  Case studies now in development tell the story of:
  • How a satellite service provider connected government offices and mobile phone networks to bring modern communications to the war-torn land of Afghanistan
  • How a satellite operator helped stage the world’s biggest concert to promote global awareness of climate change and personal commitments to change
  • How a service provider made possible the coordination of disaster relief in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami.  
When was the last time you saved the world?  You probably did it yesterday and will do it again tomorrow. Tell us how at

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Time to Make the Case for Satellite

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, February 27, 2014
The satellite business is a technology business with enormous impact on business, government and human welfare.  

So what do all of us inside the industry spend all our time talking about?  Bit rates and look angles.  Ephemeris data and electric propulsion.  How HTS will affect FSS and the enticing attractions of DVB-S2 extensions.  

It’s enough to make ad man Don Draper start crying into his Canadian Club.  

Over the past few years, the industry has woken up to the risk that we will get our clocks cleaned by a terrestrial wireless industry that is hungry for spectrum.  Waking is up is good, and SSPI is putting its shoulder to the wheel with other industry associations in the run-up to the World Radiocommunications Conference of 2015.  

But it is worth taking a moment to think about why our clocks are available for cleaning.  If you were looking for an example of a technology business with enormous impact on the world, the mobile industry would be top of the list.  Take just the example of Safaricom in Kenya.  Safaricom created a money transfer service called M-PESA, which lets users load money onto their cell phones just as they would load prepaid air time.  The service made Safaricom a lot of money last year.   It also let Kenyans make US$19.6 billion in payments and money transfers– a total that exceeded Kenya’s national budget.
With 70 percent of adult Kenyans – and 50% of the poor – using it, The Economist estimates that M-Pesa has boosted national GDP by as much as 25 percent.  So popular has the service been that it drove an overall increase in mobile penetration from 49% in 2008 to 77% in 2012 – and greater phone penetration alone has generated $2.4 trillion in economic growth, according to a report by Deloitte (Mobile Telephone and Taxation in Kenya 2011).  

That’s an appealing story, right?  But our industry accomplishes miracles like this on a regular basis.  It’s just that we prefer to keep it a secret from the world because…because – well, raise your hand if you can think of a reason.    

At SSPI, we are determined to start telling secrets.  We are inviting our members, sponsors, academic researchers and other industry trade groups to submit case studies of satellite changing the world.  

We want to create a set of powerful, emotive stories that dramatically illustrate how much our planet relies on the faint radio signals that travel between earth and space, from supporting free elections to improving education, providing news and entertainment to raising crop yields, saving lives to maintaining security in a dangerous world.  

We will publish those stories for the use of our partner associations, from ESOA and GVF to SIA, whose job it is to lobby for our industry.  While they present the rational case for protecting C-Band, we will make the human case: why business, government, health, safety and welfare rely on interference-free access to space.  

In the end, spectrum decisions are political decisions, and powerful stories can have a major impact.

Have something to share?  Send it to  We will review it, edit it with your assistance, and use it to help our industry make its case.  Your company may get its name in lights, while doing something vital for the industry’s future. 

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In 2014, It’s Time to Be the Change We Want to See

Posted By Robert Bell, Monday, January 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014
When was the last time you saw the words "live via satellite” on your TV screen?  

Elvis Presley did an "Aloha from Hawaii” concert in January 1974 that was "broadcast live via satellite.”  By the time Prince Charles married Dianna Spencer live on TV, however, there was no point in running a "live via satellite” tag at the bottom of the screen.   Live TV, delivered however the heck it was delivered, was no longer a "thing” – just one of the conveniences of modern life.  

That’s a short life span for public awareness of one of the most profound technology changes of the 20th Century.  Today, if you ask most people what satellites do, they might summon up satellite TV.  The better informed will mention satellite radio and the real cognoscenti might even recall that the map app on their smartphones is reading signals from space.  

That’s a success story: our industry’s services work so well and are so integrated into a wide range of applications that they are invisible.  But invisibility has a price.  When it comes time for us to lobby for RF spectrum against the mighty mobile industry, or to win public funding for broadband delivery, invisibility is an Achilles heel.  When we need to conquer new markets to maintain our growth, invisibility becomes a huge barrier.  

Invisibility is what drove one of the most innovative companies in the world, Intel, to plaster an "Intel Inside” sticker on every computer contain its chips.   It has been celebrated as one of the most successful branding campaigns in history.   In 1992, the first year of "Intel Inside,” worldwide sales rose 63 percent.  Awareness of the Intel brand rose from 25% in 1991 to 94% in 1995.  By 2001, Intel was ranked the sixth most valuable brand in the world, and its market capitalization had grown from US$1bn to $5bn.  

Now it’s our turn.  At the end of 2013, SSPI launched a campaign in collaboration with such respected sister associations as SIA, GVF and ESOA.  We aim to change the global conversation about satellite and refresh the satellite brand by focusing attention on the industry’s striking contributions to human welfare, safety and prosperity.  You will be hearing more about it in 2014, as we invite people in all walks of our business to contribute their ideas and energy.  

This is a long-haul effort.  Unlike Intel, we will not be rolling out elaborate exhibits on the show floor at CES, launching advertising in major media, or slapping little satellite logos on every product that accesses content delivered via satellite.  Instead, we are going to work together to define what messages we should be delivering and work with our thousands of individuals and companies to begin delivering them.  As the old saying puts it, we have to "be the change we want to see” and we look forward to having you help.  Happy New Year!

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The Challenge of Virtualizing the Satellite Network

Posted By Robert Bell, Wednesday, November 20, 2013
In my last post, I mentioned a thought-provoking article by Ericsson North America CEO Vish Nandlall, in which he answered the question: what will The Network look like in 2020?  By The Network, Mr. Nandlall clearly means the mobile and broadband technology that his company manufactures – but I believe this Network is shaping the expectations and demands of every communications customer including our own, and we can profit from what he has to say.   

Here’s one of his predictions: "The Network,” he writes, "connects computing with mobile endpoints through rigid overlays such as MPLS, which forces traffic through one-size-fits-all network services such as load balancers and firewalls.”  He thinks his industry will embrace software-defined networks that let operators program services instead of managing static capacity.  

As an example, he envisions a peak-hours situation in which carrier would map all video traffic onto a secondary path – for example, satellite –just by issuing a few commands rather than manually modifying every network element along the way, as it is done today.  In a matter of minutes, congestion would clear and service quality improve.  "This effectively wrests control of the network,” he writes, "away from IP engineers and puts it in the hands of IT software teams.”  

I don’t know how much I was able to follow his concept – but the direction seems clear.  It is the same direction we already see in our business: continuing and cascading pressure to make network management less manual and physical and more automated and virtual.   It is not an easy thing to accomplish when the endpoints of the network are in orbit, where enormous precision is needed to complete a circuit without causing interference. 

But if this forecast of the Network seems as intuitively persuasive to you as to me, it is a thing we must accomplish.  The new high-throughput architectures are a step in that direction, because they create a big enough cloud of capacity to enable the creation of virtual networks.  Systems like Newtec’s award-winning MENOS may also point the way.  Even hosted payloads offer a nod in this direction, by combining physical assets that customers once demanded be separate.  

Nandlall ends his article with a wonderful quote from Clayton Christianson, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, a seminal book that explains how disruptive innovations occur.  "I think, as a general rule, most of us are in markets that are booming,” he wrote.  "Even the newspaper business is in a growth industry.  It is not in decline.  It’s just their way of thinking about the industry that is in decline.”  That is the kind of thinking we need to avoid.

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Ready for the $1 ARPU Economy?

Posted By Robert Bell, Monday, November 04, 2013
On November 12, SSPI will present its Promise Awards to three women age 35 and under who have made valuable contributions to their companies and the industry.  Yes, you read that right: young women.  In an industry where 83% of the workforce is male, according to SSPI's last workforce study, we found three female satellite professionals who lead the pack in a very competitive contest.  

Among the skills they bring to bear are mechanical and electrical engineering, testing and measurement, national space policy, technology and business strategies, guidance systems and self-learning software.  We are going to need those skills, and plenty more, to navigate the changes coming to the business of The Network, which is the business we are all in today.

Today, what happens in The Network – meaning the vast set of public and private networks and data centers that link the 50 billion connected devices and 6 billion people on the planet – has become a dominant influence on our business.  We may still think we're serving broadcast or maritime or enterprise markets but – like it or not – it is our customers' daily experience with The Network that is shaping their expectations and demands.  

I read an interview with Vish Nandlall, the CTO for Ericsson North America, in which he answered the question: what will the network look like in 2020?  What he said made my hair stand on end, what little I have left of it.  "The first likely truth," he said, "is the emergence of the $1 ARPU (average revenue per user) economy."  Yes, you also read that right: $1 ARPU.  

His reasoning goes like this.  For the multitude of companies that operate The Network, management attention, capex and revenues are shifting inexorably from traditional voice, text and data services to billions of individual apps encompassing all user needs.  Increasingly, the network hardware and transport layers are commodities that support applications where all the value lies.  "That service unit," he says, "could take the form of a Nike wellness application or it could be a production-line sensor connected to a General Electric control system.  Whether serving human or machine, the value of a service is being driven down to a dollar."  

Nandlall wryly added, "Profitabile growth will require rethinking the network end to end."  That's true on the ground and doubly true in space.  

If all this were taking place in a galaxy far, far away, Nandlall's interview would just be interesting speculation.  But when I look at the forces affecting our industry – from intense fights over spectrum to the disruptions in the media business that are making our industry's biggest and most stable market into something more volatile (and interesting) – I see the connection.  And I am grateful to all the people, especially our three Promise winners, who are working so hard to slash the cost of a satellite-delivered bit and make our services more flexible and easier to access – which means, more attractive to users of The Network.  
Sunali ChokshiEmma HindsSarah Warren Rose

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Connect with the Future

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, October 03, 2013
It is hard to make predictions, said Yogi Berra, especially about the future.  And yet, we all hunger for good, solid predictions in which we can believe.  When will the Endless Recession reach its inevitable end?  Who has the best shot at winning the World Cup?  Where will you find yourself ten years from now?

I confidently predict that, on November 12 in New York City, you can meet people who will make a substantial difference to our business – meaning people that you will want to know.  They are the winners of the Promise Awards for satellite executives 35 and under who have already made big contributions to their companies and who will make much bigger contributions in the future.  They are the stars of the Future Leaders Dinner, taking place for the eighth year in a row on the evening before the annual SATCON and CCW conference and exhibition.  

You will also meet the Mentor of the Year, an individual who has played a vital role in helping talented young people make their mark.  

In past years, you could have met the guy who leads development of the SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle.  You might have a met a woman who is single-handedly changing how the US government thinks about satellite procurement.  You could have spent time with a guy who helped write the DVB standard or the women who led the team of engineers that kept Galaxy 15 from taking down a single broadcast customer on its wild ride through the orbital arc.   These are people in the early stage of their careers.  Just imagine what they will get up to next.

It’s easy to make their acquaintance.  Just put the Future Leaders Dinner in your calendar and buy a ticket or cadge an invitation from one of our table buyers.  It starts at 6:00 pm at the Penn Club in midtown Manhattan.  And it’s a terrific way to start your week of shows.  My thanks to the companies that have helped us each year to stage this wonderful event, including Arianespace, Ericsson, Space Systems/Loral and KPMG.  I look forward to seeing you there.

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Never Been Done Before? Let’s Do It!

Posted By Robert Bell, Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On August 10, Robert N. Wold died at the age of 87 in Irvine, California.  He was an ad man who found his way into the satellite business.  Or it would be more accurate to say that he blazed a trail into the satellite business that most of us have followed without knowing who made it.

Wold started his career in advertising at CBS and, after a 20-year career with broadcasters and agencies, left that business to consult with sports rights holders on distribution to TV and radio. This was at a time when live telecasts in the US went over long-distance telephone lines.  

Wold pushed his clients to try another, better way.  He is credited with the first satellite transmission of a live event, a baseball game, in 1975.  HBO’s Thrilla from Manilla generally gets the glory but Wold actually got there first.  He really made a name for himself when he orchestrated real-time satellite delivery of the Richard Nixon-David Frost interviews to 165 TV stations around the US in 1977.    He went on to do much else, all of which qualified him for induction into SSSPI’s Hall of Fame in 2001.  I had the privilege of handing Bob that award.  

On November 12, I will be handing awards to three people on other opposite end of their careers – and I think that if Bob could be there, he would be cheering us on.  For all of our long-term planning and cautious business culture, the satellite industry has been built by people who did nearly impossible things for the first time.  The winners of the eighth annual Promise Awards will represent exactly that kind of innovation.  

Promise Award winners are satellite professionals, age 35 and under, who have already made significant and valuable contributions to their employers, the industry, and often the rest of the world.  In 2010, an RF engineer at Intelsat named Angela Wheeler was thrown headfirst into a real Black Swan problem: Intelsat G15 went AWOL across the orbital arc still transmitting.  She oversaw the technical team that developed strategies both for the company and its customers, and did it with such skill that not one network programmer lost transmission.  

Brian Mengwasser fought the same fight for SES.  The first and last spacecraft that G-15 passed belonged to his company.  This innovator developed software that let the company estimate the impact on every SES customer and how effective different fixes would be.  The software not only performed thousands of link calculations for all carriers on a satellite in a matter of minutes, it also produced customer-friendly tables, graphs and timelines to explain the impact and how SES planned to manage it.

Captain Cheronda Spann joined an Air Force program in real trouble: the SBIRS GEO-1 Space Vehicle, which Congress was threatening to choke off over repeated cost overruns and schedule misses.   Asked to push the program through choke-points, she led teams solving assembly problems, testing failures and software glitches.  Software productivity leaped 300%, testing milestones were passed, and the program got back on track.  

Doing things that have never been done before requires something special: an entrepreneurial spark, a talent for giving people a vision and getting them to believe in it.  Bob Wold had that special something in abundance, and I think the stage will be full of it as well at the Future Leaders Dinner on November 12.  And not just our stage: our Promise Award winners will be featured in the opening keynote panel at SATCON 2013 the next day.  Make sure the young professionals you know are nominated by our deadline of September 13.

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A Young Man Fulfilling his Promise

Posted By Robert Bell, Thursday, August 01, 2013

At a reception at Inmarsat’s booth at CommunicAsia 2013, I was looking at the latest service and terminal offerings when this young guy came up to me.  He looked very familiar but I couldn’t match the face with a name until he stuck out his hand and said "Stefano Poli.  Do you remember me?”  

I certainly did.  Stefano was working for Thales Alenia Space in 2009 when he was selected as one of our Promise Award winners.  The Promise Awards go to satellite professionals age 35 and under who have, in the view of their employers, the talent and motivation to advance into leadership positions.

Stefano (seen here with Arianspace’s Clay Mowry) was one of those special people who started out as a structural engineer, working at Alenia Spazio, and made the move to the revenue side of the business.  An executive training program sent him to Japan, where he helped develop Asia marketing strategy before heading home and becoming sales manager for northern Europe.  

When he handed me his card, it was clear that this young mover-and-shaker was still on the move.  My young sales manager at Thales Alenia Space was now Director for Commercial Development for the Global Xpress Program.  He thanked me for the attention that winning the Promise Award brought him and credited it for giving his career a push up the ladder.

This was one of those moments that makes running a nonprofit association fun. While this is just the story of one person and his career path, it explains why the Promise Awards are important.  I have heard countless people in our business complain that all they see is gray hair everywhere they go.  Just look around any trade show or industry dinner, they say, and everybody is old.  What kind of future does this business have if most of the people in it are ready to be equipped with a walker?  

In fact, that’s not true.  Our last workforce report in 2009 found that 43% of satellite professionals are between the ages of 18 and 39 and 80% are under the age of 54.  The reason you don’t see that many of them at trade shows and industry dinners is that, wisely or not, companies in our business hesitate to spend money flying young executives around the world.  They send the decision-makers and the veterans instead.

But our industry is rich with talent, and it deserves both recognition and mentoring.  If you know a talented young person, nominate him or her for our 2013 Promise Awards today.  Nominations close on September 13, and the Awards will be announced in October, before our Future Leaders Dinner on November 12.

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How to Use the Network When You Don’t Like to Network

Posted By Robert Bell, Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I like to tell people that SSPI is a worldwide network, nearly 4,000-strong, of people working or seeking careers in satellite.  That’s an impressive number.  But in communications, a network is known more for the traffic that rides on it than on how big it is, and the same is true of our person-to-person international network.  

Online tools play a part in finding people to connect with or learning more about people you have met.  But really using the network comes down to establishing personal connections.  For some people, that comes naturally.  You see them moving easily through events like our Future Leaders Dinner in New York or the EUSatcom pan-European meeting of European members that I am attending on June 28 in Amsterdam.  A network is for networking, and these people understand that on an intuitive level.   

But extroverts, those natural networkers, are only part of the population.  For the rest of us, person-to-person networking can be anything from stressful fun to a terrible ordeal.  So if you are not a natural networker, how do you take advantage of the network?  

I will share some great advice I was once given by Liz Lynch, an author who taught herself to network and now teaches others.  It’s simple, she told me.  Instead of going into a business social situation thinking about what you want to get out of it, go into it thinking about how you can help the people you meet.   

Effective networking, it turns out, is not about aggressively promoting yourself or your organization to all you meet.  It is about creating relationships, in which the only currency that counts is your time, attention and commitment.   

We all have knowledge, skills and experience that could be useful to others.  People love to talk about what they do and the challenges they face.  So you ask questions, listen carefully and, when you see a way to be helpful, offer your assistance.  Maybe that means sharing your experience with a particular problem.  It might be introducing two people who should really know each other.  It might be advice on what technology to buy or avoid.   

Not every business social setting provides the right environment but taking this approach to each one radically changes the experience of networking.  If you enjoy it already, it will make networking more fun.  If networking is a chore, looking for ways to help others will create the possibility of pleasure. 

It is a simple truth that, barring accidents of fate, we generally get out of life what we invest in it.  Invest in your fellow satellite professionals, and you may be amazed by the return. 

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You Don’t’ Have to be a Rocket Scientist to Work Here, But…

Posted By Robert Bell, Friday, May 24, 2013

Actually, there’s no "but.”   

I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion at a recent Northeast Chapter meeting with Max Haot, co-founder and CEO of Livestream.  This innovative business is becoming the YouTube of live video, carrying over 40 million feeds a month, mostly for consumers but with a growing and profitable professional services business.  And guess what: when video transport needs to be bulletproof rather than "best effort,” Livestream turns to satellite.  He recognized that evening that he is one of us.   

Max is one very bright guy, but rockets?  Not so much.  And sitting in the audience were people in sales, people in marketing, people in operations and management, capacity planning and personnel, public relations and customer service.  In my role as executive director of SSPI, I have been privileged to meet brilliant rocket scientists, software engineers and spacecraft designers, but the array of talent required by this business is breathtakingly broad.  

That’s what we found out in 2009, when we published our first Workforce Report.  Nearly 400 satellite professionals responded to our survey, and they produced a breakdown of occupations in our industry shown below.

You can get even deeper insight from the career guide we published called Liftoff: Careers in Satellite, the World’s First and Most Successful Space Industry.  Written for young people and educators, it is available from in print and Kindle editions.   

So the next time a colleague says "I’m not rocket scientist, but…,” you can assure him or her that it’s perfectly all right.  Most of us aren’t, either.

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