Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sasken to work on new Inmarsat satellite phone

1-4 satellite coverage

Bangalore-based Sasken Communications Technologies Ltd is in talks withInmarsat Plc for developing what it calls a second-generation satellite phone, following on from Inmarsat’s launch this June of the IsatPhone Prodeveloped by Sasken.
“Inmarsat had projected a market number of 80,000 phones in the first year, and from what we hear, the response is exceeding expectations,” Sasken chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) Rajiv C. Mody said. “The feedback has been very good.”
Sasken is in “pre-kick off” talks with Inmarsat for the next project. The new phone is intended for “sensitive” communications, he said, while declining to elaborate on whether the intended end-users were in the military, homeland security or industrial communications space.
“The IsatPhone Pro was a game changer for us. It was a complex project completed in 15 months, with many challenges. Remember, the signals are between the phone and a satellite 36,000km above,” Mody said. “I am particularly proud of the antenna design by our team in Finland. It was also a validation of our E-series user interface which we developed for feature phones.”
Sasken has offices in Europe, the US, China and Japan. While the high-end system know-how and hardware integration work comes from its offices in the West, the software and testing is done in India.
The phone is designed to work at temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees Celsius to 55 degrees Celsius, and can withstand being dropped in water. The phone can make calls to other satellite phones and cellular phones.
Inmarsat is also looking at phones with additional speeds and data functionality in the KU band, and Sasken is working on certain aspects of that as well, he said. “We see a clear niche market in low-volume devices.”
Sasken is also working on devices for monitoring the weather and emissions and on satellite-linked communications inside aircraft for other clients, he said.
A challenge for Sasken is attrition, which is as high as 30%.
“We have to ramp up capabilities. And we cannot do this with just compensation, as that is a hygiene factor,” Mody said. “And 50-60% increases are just not sustainable.”
Sasken revised compensation in July, and that, along with European vacations and foreign exchange pressures, led to a decline in net profit toRs.15.71 crore for the quarter ended 30 September, down 31.8% from the preceding quarter and 3.9% year-on-year. Net profit for the half year wasRs.38.8 crore, up 6% a year ago.
Mody sees high potential for low-cost research and development (R&D) outsourcing.
“People are realizing there is no point protecting it and keeping it in high-cost locations,” he said.
The push was particularly clear in the mobile consumer devices space, from handhelds to in-vehicle infotainment, where the rate of change is rapid and the user experience is critical, he added.
Pradeep Udhaas, executive director at consultancy firm KPMG, said Sasken had over the years invested in a specialized R&D area, and “the market will have to start recognizing that. R&D is in their DNA, and there are not many players in the satellite telephony sector. Moreover, R&D outsourcing is now an attraction for many global companies”.

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