Interview: Shawkat Ahmed Talks In Depth on Thuraya MarineStar

Credit: Thuraya

Published Nov 28, 2019 2:32 PM by Tom Cox

Tom Cox from The Maritime Executive spoke with Shawkat Ahmed, Chief Commercial Officer of Thuraya Telecommunications Company, about the new Thuraya MarineStar satellite voice solution with tracking and monitoring capabilities at Europort in Rotterdam last week.

Tell us how Thuraya MarineStar was born?

When you remove certain functionality and stick with the essentials to become commercially available, simultaneously incorporating functions that people really need, you gain a lot of interest from the market. 

Thuraya MarineStar is backed by  genuine insights, mainly from the fishery market. It enables tracking and monitoring as well as simple voice, and is highly affordable. The backbone of this solution is our success stories, spanning more than two decades in the mobile voice communications industry. To date, we have sold in excess of one million voice units. Therefore, the opportunity for Thuraya MarineStar in this market is indisputably huge. There are thousands of maritime vessels, which need a simple, affordable, effective and robust terminal for daily fishing operations. 

What are MarineStar's key features?

Thuraya MarineStar has been designed with two key ideas in mind: - 1) Providing communication and 2) Compliance with the regulation for fish catch reporting, which is mandatory and beneficial to all vessel operators in the fisheries sector. The more you report your catch, the better chance you will have to export your goods at much higher rates! 

The MarineStar has a number of compact, but noteworthy, features like the SOS button and over-the-air updates. You can link an analogue phone and put it down in the cabin. This is good for crew welfare and crew calling. It is not overly complicated – but a simple, cost-effective solution enabling tracking and monitoring. 

I would also like to add that it is not just another stand-alone product. Thuraya MarineStar is essentially a package solution. Apart from delivering voice communications, it comes with the possibility to also track so that people do not necessarily have to invest further in their tracking systems or a brand new application. We provide all this, plus more on subscription basis. 

Today in Asia, there is a lot of regulation around illegal fishing. Governments want to curb unlawful activities. Thuraya MarineStar activates geo-fencing, besides various other features, that can be downloaded on physical interfaces by regulators or fishery associations, depending on the unique requirements of users. Thuraya helps them comply with all regulatory norms related to transmission. 

The other key benefit is obviously in terms of logistics. You connect the device to various sensors, and relevant data is transmitted to the system periodically, enabling users to manage logistics operations better. In some other cases, the terminal could be linked to temperature, speed and various other parameters. 

What is your target market for MarineStar?

The MarineStar unlocks special opportunities for us; the most significant being the fisherman, who expects to be connected throughout his journey outside the coast - on the same mobile number that he uses on land. Thuraya is the only company in the world that offers this unique possibility. On our network, you can roam with your local number, remaining within reach at sea while catching fish, doing other activities or simply when traveling from one region to another. People can contact you on the same number. The reverse also holds true. You could make calls from it to connect with friends, business partners or whomever you have to. This again, adds another layer of simplicity. 

As I see it, Thuraya MarineStar ticks all the boxes that are vital for the end-user, in terms of safety, connectivity and most importantly, affordability. Because, what we have seen so far - from our history as well as that of our competitors - is that there were products that had ambitious launches, but were unfortunately “out of the reach.” End users could not afford to pay for the hardware; the total cost of ownership was beyond them. Furthermore, they did not have packages customized for their requirements. 

It is common knowledge that the requirements of a market like Vietnam would be appreciably different from those of Japan or China. For such disparate geographies, we have devised bespoke pricing models and bundles. Ultimately, they are based on user requirements, how much the user can pay, and how frequently he wants to update. All these are easily manageable.  

How long it has taken to develop Thuraya MarineStar? 

It has taken Thuraya almost seven months. We had to make a substantial investment to develop this solution. After evaluating different suppliers, we decided to work with APSI from South Korea, considering their flawless record of delivering more than one million handsets for us. Besides, their quality standards are exceptional. We believe that our faith is reciprocated by APSI - especially after last year’s acquisition, when Yahsat took over the management of Thuraya. 

What are your plans for the future?

In the future, we intend to focus more on the maritime sector. We have decided that our priority for investment, business development and marketing should be maritime in the next few years. Thuraya MarineStar is our first step in this direction. We believe it will help us gain entry into the business, but there is definitely more to come. This is part of our diversification plan as well, because so far we have been mainly successful overland with our voice and data products. 

It is an exciting time for us! We have already received so many inquiries on Thuraya MarineStar, and they are an early sign that the terminal is going to be very successful. We unrolled a pre-launch campaign that was shared with our distributors. I am happy to note that more than 75 percent of the initial stock has already been acquired by various Service Partners. This means we will have to re-order. Presently, we are focusing on multiple regions, because the initial wave of orders came from Asia. By being here in Rotterdam, interacting and meeting our European partners, we note there is a similar enthusiasm here for the product. Again, this is very important in development, because we have realized that this solution has fantastic global potential. 

Some of our partners also view the MarineStar as a cost-effective backup to their high throughput solutions that could help maximize their margins. So, instead of buying a product, which is three times more expensive, they could invest in this terminal. We are going to incentivize further by arranging insurance packages, as we understand the solution will be used as a backup. We won’t be charging the end-users heavily. Our monthly backup charges are very reasonable. 

You have had very good initial successes with the Asian market and Asian fishing owners. Have you had any initial success in Europe?

Yes, of course. Our key European maritime partner operates out of France. They have placed a sizeable order, as they understood the MarineStar’s possibilities here. We are discussing with some companies in Holland too. There is a region in Holland called Urk that is a fishery hub. There are many other areas too that are fishing hotspots. The initial view is that Thuraya MarineStar is a very flexible, dependable and affordable solution. We are extremely optimistic. 

You mentioned the plan is to focus more on Maritime moving forward. Can you speak any more about those plans?
Let us consider the big merchant vessel business where the requirement is for very high data throughput. To cater to such high bandwidth usage, Thuraya is collaborating with Panasonic that has  global coverage on Ku-band. But High Throughput Services (HTS) powered by Ku-band are not as reliable as L-band solutions. Therefore, as a backup option for those large vessels, we have incorporated an L-band system, which is combined with Ku from Panasonic. This is how we are addressing divergent market needs.

We discern huge potential with small and medium-sized boats that do regional business. Since our coverage is also regional, we believe Thuraya can satisfy the requirements of approximately 90 percent of this market. Within the segment, the primary focus for us would be fisheries. 

We have embarked on many promising projects, but have also seen people actively seeking our expertise to minimize their operational costs - by deploying our systems whenever and wherever possible.

Thank-you Shawkat.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.