Namibian military radio specialist Sat-Com expects to have a boom year in 2021 as it continues to successfully penetrate the international market, launch new products and set up facilities for local radio production in customer countries.
Sat-Com will build on its successes of 2020, which was a relatively good year in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company’s Managing Director David Brown told defenceWeb that one of the highlights of 2020 was receiving a lot more enquiries for its products, especially from countries never thought possible, as Sat-Com opens up international markets.
“We had four repeat orders from one customer this year,” Brown said, with deliveries continuing through March next year. Sat-Com also received smaller orders from the Middle East and Far East for special forces and other applications – there has been a lot of interest for marine applications, especially as Sat-Com’s radios like the Leopard and Cheetah offer frequency-hopping communications in the HF, VHF, and UHF bands, an unusual feature in military radios.
“I am very happy with our international exposure,” Brown said, with export orders increasing. Three years ago, 20% of the company’s production was export-related and now that stands at 80%. The company is even contemplating setting up an office in Singapore as part of its international expansion drive. At the moment the African market accounts for around 50% of export revenue, but Asia makes up a significant balance of export orders.
Transfer of technology
Sat-Com offers the transfer of technology of its products: “We have an eagerness to help other countries be successful, to help countries own their own security,” Brown said. “We did it from the ground up from a relatively short time and we are willing to help people do the same.”
Next year Sat-Com will be establishing a factory in a customer country for the assembly of some products there under license. The agreement allows the customer to build and resell radios. “We want to empower countries to build our equipment and be proud of ownership of the product,” Brown said. Sat-Com is currently talking to three countries on the transfer of technology. To ensure communications security, Sat-Com would ensure unique encryption for customer-built radios.
Brown is not at all concerned that today’s customers could become tomorrow’s competitors, as he believes the profits from licensing deals will be ploughed back into research and development to innovate and produce new products, ensuring the company always stays ahead. “To survive we will have to build the next best product/next unique product.”
Sat-Com is indeed working on a number of new products, including a network radio it hopes to bring out in the second or third quarter of next year. It also hopes to bring out a handheld radio around the same time to meet the market demand for a smaller low-cost mass-produced radio.
Another new product is the Hammerhead – this is the Leopard radio with a new man/machine interface. It has a bigger screen and larger controls to make it easier to see and use, especially in maritime applications where a boat might be moving around wildly. Brown told defenceWeb the Hammerhead came about in response to a customer who said the Leopard is well suited to marine operations with its VHF capability but required a better user interface. “This opens up the marine market for us.”
Other developments include investigating a radio for airborne platforms in response to a requirement from a customer in Europe. Brown said Sat-Com’s most exciting project is an IP/network radio for mesh networks it is developing with an international customer. “We’d like to launch the radio in the second/third quarter of next year.”
Although 95% of Sat-Com’s business is focussed on military communications, it has a commercial side: it is a reseller of commercial communication brands and systems. It provides communication and system solutions for municipalities, police, border patrol and other security and public infrastructure sectors. Sat-Com also designs and installs V-SAT services or terrestrial data networks. Brown said around 7% of the company’s revenue comes from the commercial side of the business, mostly in Namibia, with the majority of activity centred on maintaining commercial broadcasting equipment and supplying two-way radios for municipalities, mines etc.
Although COVID-19 has made it difficult for Sat-Com employees to travel, the pandemic had little overall impact on the company as all manufacturing (laser cutting, metal bending, powder coating etc.) takes place in Namibia. However, COVID-19 did impact on Sat-Com’s suppliers to some degree.
Brown sees COVID-19 as forcing countries to realise the need for radios, especially for border patrols, road blocks etc. as militaries become heavily involved in pandemic response. Sat-Com has received more enquiries since COVID-19 than it’s ever had in the past, Brown said. “Everyone was in their comfort zone. Borders were patrolled but not with earnest. All of a sudden people need equipment to deploy and communicate. You can imagine in Africa where there’s not cell towers everywhere.”