This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.
Given companies have come to rely on broadband for many business-critical functions, more applications are moving to the cloud, and it’s important to stay connected when disaster strikes, satellite seems to make more sense today than ever.
Skycasters is a 10-year-old outfit that provides satellite Internet, data and VPN services. The privately-held company, which is profitable and debt-free, hawks reliable and affordable full-time and backup broadband satellite solutions to businesses nationwide as well as to customers who are outside DSL and cable Internet footprints.
INTERNET TELEPHONY recently spoke with Skycasters President Mike Kister about the company and its customers.
Tell us about the formation of Skycasters and its beginnings.
Kister: Skycasters started out as a VAR of HNS back in the direct wave days. We were really targeting the higher end business users. As the service grew in popularity it became clear that their service wasn’t really living up to the promises of the glossy brochure. And so we determined that in order to provide the service level that we had promised our customers, and to meet the needs of that customer base, to build our own teleport. So we started in 2005, built our first satellite uplink. We now have three uplink antennas here in Akron and have transitioned our customers to our own service where we can control the quality and performance and really give them all of the high level of service that they need in these kinds of industries.
What is the predominant application for which customers use your service?
Kister: We tend to be kind of a niche player in high performance service, so either in disaster response – police, fire, EMS, first responder type of applications where they’re serving multiple and trying to coordinate the efforts of multiple disaster recovery firms or organizations like there might be a fire brigade group and there might be a rescue emergency hospital setup and everybody is sharing that connection. We also work a lot in the oil, gas and mining industries where we primary connectivity for exploratory drilling rigs. So you have a crew out far off the grid and they’re drilling and this is the primary communications link back to the world and back to headquarter. Finally, we provide backup services to terrestrial connections. So if somebody has a fiber or a metro Ethernet connection or some high-speed connection like that, it’s critical to their business; if it goes down, they failover and it goes to the satellite.
What’s the typical alternative to your service and why is your option a better one?
Kister: There’s a couple different ways to do continuity. You can either use a different terrestrial connection over a diverse path, but ultimately you still have connection into the building and it’s really hard to get truly diverse fiber. Other people have looked at it as kind of an aircard solution; but again the aircard has a couple of drawbacks. It’s a little bit slower, obviously, and it still relies on the local infrastructure. When we talk about it we say ‘Our infrastructure is 23,000 miles up.’ So that’s true diverse path.
Who are your customers?
Kister: We run the gamut from relatively small home office specialty kind of organizations all the way up to Fortune 100 organizations that are either trying to service a very remote branch location or where we’re backup to their primary connectivity in a lot of locations.
We do a lot in oil exploration, that’s been a very growing area for us. And then in the first responder market, state-level departments of homeland security, state-level departments of health, port facilities, various county-level border patrol activities in the Southwest. It’s basically any kind of an organization whose mission it is to go to a spot and do their work and they don’t know what that spot is going to be, whether it’s responding to a disaster or a security threat or whatnot. That’s where they find us to be most applicable, both the mobility aspect and then also because of the infrastructure, the invulnerability of the infrastructure. I’ll give you a quick example: A couple of years back Indianapolis hosted the Final 4 NCAA. Indiana Department of Homeland Security deployed our satellite systems all over Indianapolis and basically established a completely independent parallel communications network, all satellite based, and maintained it for the duration of the Final 4. The modern thinking in terrorist preparations is that a terrorist incident isn’t just going to be an attack like we saw on the towers, but also is going to include elements of trying to take out the infrastructure – communications, water supply, power, whatnot. And so as part of the response planning now these organizations are making sure that they have the ability to provide these infrastructures on an emergency basis.
How many customers does SkyCasters have and where are they?
Kister: We’ve got a couple thousand customers. North America, Canada, U.S., Central America and the Caribbean, so we basically cover the Northern half of the Western hemisphere.
How many satellites at what orbit do you operate?
Kister: We operate on two satellites. We lease capacity from Intelsat (News - Alert) on G28 at 89West, and we lease capacity from Telstat on T11n 365West.
When you go to sell to potential customers, what’s your pitch?
Kister: I ask them if the CEO of Hughes (News - Alert) Net has ever come out to see them. We’d got 40 employees here, so the escalation chain is very short. I know many of my customers on a first name basis. And we have all of the control right here at the teleport. If you’re doing business with an HNS reseller and there’s a problem, they’re going to go to HNS, and it’s going to have to go through their chain, and it could be days before a problem is even identified. Here, if there’s a problem and one of my tech support guys is fielding a call and something doesn’t look right or is odd, I walk down the hall and stick my head into one of the engineer’s offices and say ‘come and take a look at this.’ We’re right there and actively engaged with our customers.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi