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Telemedicine services at sea will become a must after Covid-19

Virtual Medical Services

With the abundance of connectivity today, video consultations are becoming the norm. It’s quick, convenient and highly useful.

In the UK, the NHS has been promoting an app which enables online consultations for people to contact their general practitioner doctor (GP), or other required health care profession. This can range from electronic message, phone or video call, or a face-to-face appointment at a later date if required.

The first wave of Covid-19 has been raging for months, and sadly, the pandemic has greatly impacted many peoples’ lives. One of the key battling grounds for diagnosing this virus has been testing and diagnosing it in the early stages, some countries like Germany and South Korea have done a great job of this. The lessons from dealing with this pandemic will lead to many changes in the future. In particular, large data analyses will lead to radical rethinking by governments charged with medical responsibility. In countries where there is a free-market health industry may take some time to catch up because of lack of central responsibility.

One such change in the maritime industry will be the inclusion of telemedicine services. The shortage of skilled medical workers and a lack of healthcare infrastructure at sea will be evaluated thoroughly in the coming months. We can expect a much larger part to be played by AI in initial diagnosis and preventative medicine. Seamen may be required to wear wrist health monitors (similar to fitbits). Cruise ships, even those who normally carry medical staff, will need to increase their vigilance to prevent another industry shut-down which is likely to last six months or more. Centralised air-conditioning systems will need to be re-evaluated as will many other shared facilities. Many Cruise operators already operate smart-token systems allowing access and monitoring of movement of passengers. It would not be out of order if these tokens also recorded activity and basic health parameters, alerting a medical AI system to any potential problems.

Providing crew welfare services like the ability for seafarers to communicate with their families and friends is now a must. Providing healthcare services to crew will also become a major factor soon. Telemedicine offers practical and valuable solution to address this matter. A potentially ill seafarer can be examined via videolink without a nurse or doctor being there in person providing simple variables such as temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and blood sugar and blood oxygen levels can be provided automatically. These are all well within the bounds of current technology. These are already available to many land-based patients in this new world of social distancing after lockdowns will be ended in most countries soon. A medical professional or team with an AI sidekick will likely be able to cover a large number of vessels per fleet, providing infections or outbreaks are not too great.

From a crew member’s perspective, one of the biggest concerns of an illness is the uncertainty of what it is and what it could lead to. Alleviating these worries will be a plus for crew wellbeing and will go a long way meet new maritime labour regulations that are soon to be promoted by the IMO/STCW labour regulations and probably the EU too.

We will likely see a host of connectivity service providers, such as Marlink and Inmarsat offering such value-added services in addition to its connectivity ones. From designs already available, some cost effective basic medical equipment will be required with an interface for the patient or administer and a camera for recording purposes. Basic medical equipment could include a blood pressure monitor, electro cardiograph, pulse oximeter, ultrasound device or thermometer. The range of equipment for the customer can easily be adjusted based seafarers’ medical histories and their likely conditions. It is unlikely we will see intensive care units or beds onboard a vessel, or breathing apparatus. If a seafarer does suffer from an acute Covid-19 attack, they would likely be flown off the vessel to a medical facility. By far the most common health emergency for sea-farers is accident, heart attack and stroke.

Valour Consultancy expects nearly 60-70 per cent of commercial vessels with VSAT to adopt telemedicine services in the next two to three years.

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It’s quick, convenient and highly useful. In the UK, the NHS has been promoting an app which enables online consultations for people to contact their general practitioner doctor (GP), or other required health care profession. This can range from electronic message, phone or video call, or a face-to-face appointment at a later date if required. The first wave of Covid-19 has been raging for months, and sadly, the pandemic has greatly impacted many peoples’ lives. One of the key battling grounds for diagnosing this virus has been testing and diagnosing it in the early stages, some countries like Germany and South Korea have done a great job of this. The lessons from dealing with this pandemic will lead to many changes in the future. In particular, large data analyses will lead to radical rethinking by governments charged with medical responsibility. In countries where there is a free-market health industry may take some time to catch up because of lack of central responsibility. One such change in the maritime industry will be the inclusion of telemedicine services. The shortage of skilled medical workers and a lack of healthcare infrastructure at sea will be evaluated thoroughly in the coming months. We can expect a much larger part to be played by AI in initial diagnosis and preventative medicine. Seamen may be required to wear wrist health monitors (similar to fitbits). Cruise ships, even those who normally carry medical staff, will need to increase their vigilance to prevent another industry shut-down which is likely to last six months or more. Centralised air-conditioning systems will need to be re-evaluated as will many other shared facilities. Many Cruise operators already operate smart-token systems allowing access and monitoring of movement of passengers. It would not be out of order if these tokens also recorded activity and basic health parameters, alerting a medical AI system to any potential problems. Providing crew welfare services like the ability for seafarers to communicate with their families and friends is now a must. Providing healthcare services to crew will also become a major factor soon. Telemedicine offers practical and valuable solution to address this matter. A potentially ill seafarer can be examined via videolink without a nurse or doctor being there in person providing simple variables such as temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and blood sugar and blood oxygen levels can be provided automatically. These are all well within the bounds of current technology. These are already available to many land-based patients in this new world of social distancing after lockdowns will be ended in most countries soon. A medical professional or team with an AI sidekick will likely be able to cover a large number of vessels per fleet, providing infections or outbreaks are not too great. From a crew member’s perspective, one of the biggest concerns of an illness is the uncertainty of what it is and what it could lead to. Alleviating these worries will be a plus for crew wellbeing and will go a long way meet new maritime labour regulations that are soon to be promoted by the IMO/STCW labour regulations and probably the EU too. We will likely see a host of connectivity service providers, such as Marlink and Inmarsat offering such value-added services in addition to its connectivity ones. From designs already available, some cost effective basic medical equipment will be required with an interface for the patient or administer and a camera for recording purposes. Basic medical equipment could include a blood pressure monitor, electro cardiograph, pulse oximeter, ultrasound device or thermometer. The range of equipment for the customer can easily be adjusted based seafarers’ medical histories and their likely conditions. It is unlikely we will see intensive care units or beds onboard a vessel, or breathing apparatus. If a seafarer does suffer from an acute Covid-19 attack, they would likely be flown off the vessel to a medical facility. By far the most common health emergency for sea-farers is accident, heart attack and stroke. Valour Consultancy expects nearly 60-70 per cent of commercial vessels with VSAT to adopt telemedicine services in the next two to three years. [/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

OneWeb Bankruptcy Only Intensifies Battle for ESA Supremacy

On March 27th 2020, London-based satellite firm, OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, and in doing so surprised some and merely confirmed what others had seen coming for some time. Much has been written, both pre- and post-bankruptcy, around the challenges associated with making the LEO business model work and, more specifically what was wrong with OneWeb’s approach. This post won’t be adding to that commentary. I’ve instead opted to focus on the potential impact to those involved in the production of the next generation of antennas, which rely heavily on LEO constellations succeeding.

Right now, there is a race (perhaps better labelled a marathon at this point) been run amongst a sizeable number of hardware manufacturers to build a new generation of fully electronically steerable antennas (ESA’s), primarily to bring the best out of NGSO satellite constellations. I respectfully refer to this as a marathon rather than a sprint because developing such a solution has proven costly and complex, and despite years of rhetoric, an ESA which hits all the right notes remains elusive. Having been fortunate enough to meet with a number of the vendors currently developing ESA’s, there can be no doubt the industry is as close as it has ever been to bringing a commercially ready product to market. But there is also still some way to go, and for most, continued development (and ultimately getting a product to market) depends on further investment and agreements, primarily with NGSO operators like OneWeb.

The significance of OneWeb in the context of this story lies mostly in the fact it had progressed as far as actually sending some satellites into orbit. Whilst those in the know will likely shake their heads reading this, OneWeb’s LEO constellation was perceived by many as one of the few that would eventually go on to succeed; perhaps symbolic of how much uncertainty and confusion there is linked to LEO. This “front runner” status and broad target market made OneWeb an attractive target for any ESA manufacturer looking to raise its profile through association. Notable examples include Istropic Systems, which in 2018 announced it was to develop an ultra-low-cost consumer broadband terminal for OneWeb primed for various end-user applications, and US-based Wafer, a company self-funded by OneWeb founder, Greg Wyler, which was reported to be working toward delivering a low-cost ESA for the LEO network this year.

The need to remain relevant in the seemingly inevitable era of LEO isn’t reserved solely for ESA vendors. In March 2020, Intellian and Cobham signed contracts to manufacture “more traditional” parabolic user terminals destined for OneWeb’s prospective enterprise, cellular backhaul, maritime and government clients. OneWeb’s bankruptcy will no doubt have repercussions here too but Intellian and Cobham are arguably better placed to cushion the blow by being able to fall back on existing GEO business segments, most notably maritime connectivity where the two have a combined 70 per cent share of active installed VSAT terminals.

Furthermore, despite what some may say, the current cost and fundamental physics associated with ESA’s dictates that the business case for them falls apart without NGSO constellations. This isn’t to say collaboration between ESA manufacturers and GEO operators is to be disregarded. Inmarsat, Intelsat and Viasat are just three GEO incumbents known to active in the ESA segment today. The former is understood to be keeping a close eye on ESA developments as part of continued enhancements to its GX network, which will include two new payloads in Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) from 2022. High up on that list is a collaboration between Safran and Jet-Talk (a joint venture between ST Electronics and Satixfy) which are forging ahead with development of an ARINC 792 compliant ESA that could become the first ESA antenna certified for GX. Intelsat, meanwhile, has brought Kymeta on as a preferred supplier of Communications-on-the-Move (COTM) terminals as part of its FlexMove services.

But the point here is that success will not come by competing with existing antenna technology in the GEO arena alone, especially in fixed terminal market where incumbent technology is more cost effective today. The commercial launch of large-scale LEO constellations that lend themselves to ESA’s are an essential ingredient in the mix. It can be argued that OneWeb’s fall pushes back the already overdue timeframe for a commercially ready LEO constellation becoming active by at least a year or more.

Clearly then, the loss of OneWeb can only be seen as a set-back for those with a stake in the development of ESA’s and the situation is only made worse by the current stance of the other current major player, SpaceX to manufacture terminals in-house. But, as touched upon briefly above, there are positives. In the short term, a small number of solutions will be deployed in GEO mobility applications, specifically the military sector and aviation, where price sensitivity is minimal, reliability is crucial, and discretion is king. There are also other operators still pushing ahead with commitments to build NGSO constellations, most notably; SES with its O3b mPOWER MEO constellation, Amazon (with it Kuiper project), Telesat and China’s proposed Hongyun and Hongyan constellations. There could also yet be a reincarnation of OneWeb that goes on to succeed where v1.0 failed – we’ve seen that before.

But what should become clear is that there is now a greater pressure on ESA manufacturers to build confidence and stand out from the crowd by forging partnerships with GEO, MEO and LEO operators, as well as influential end-users such as government departments. None of which will happen without possessing the technology to back up the rhetoric.

Linked to the above, Isotropic Systems continues to work toward a 2022 launch of its terminal designed for SES’ O3b mPOWER constellation, having been chosen as a preferred supplier, along with ALCAN and Viasat. Similarly, Gilat Satellite Networks and Ball Aerospace are just two of the vendors to carry out ESA demonstrations with Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite. The former performed what is thought to be the first in-flight test of an ESA over a NGSO satellite. Telesat has also doubled down on its intentions to build a LEO constellation of 300 satellites in a March 2020 investor call. Finally, in May 2019 Boeing Phantom Works announced it will deploy its in-house built ESA on new U.S. Navy MQ-25 drones as part of a wider military contract it had won.

In summary, the fall of OneWeb by no means kills off the ESA story. Far from it. But from my point of view, what it does do is both delay the arrival of commercially ready solutions hitting the market and speed up the rate at which manufacturers will drop out of the ESA race. The intensity has been turned up a notch and what we should now see is the cream to rise to the top.

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Much has been written, both pre- and post-bankruptcy, around the challenges associated with making the LEO business model work and, more specifically what was wrong with OneWeb’s approach. This post won’t be adding to that commentary. I’ve instead opted to focus on the potential impact to those involved in the production of the next generation of antennas, which rely heavily on LEO constellations succeeding. Right now, there is a race (perhaps better labelled a marathon at this point) been run amongst a sizeable number of hardware manufacturers to build a new generation of fully electronically steerable antennas (ESA’s), primarily to bring the best out of NGSO satellite constellations. I respectfully refer to this as a marathon rather than a sprint because developing such a solution has proven costly and complex, and despite years of rhetoric, an ESA which hits all the right notes remains elusive. Having been fortunate enough to meet with a number of the vendors currently developing ESA’s, there can be no doubt the industry is as close as it has ever been to bringing a commercially ready product to market. But there is also still some way to go, and for most, continued development (and ultimately getting a product to market) depends on further investment and agreements, primarily with NGSO operators like OneWeb. The significance of OneWeb in the context of this story lies mostly in the fact it had progressed as far as actually sending some satellites into orbit. Whilst those in the know will likely shake their heads reading this, OneWeb’s LEO constellation was perceived by many as one of the few that would eventually go on to succeed; perhaps symbolic of how much uncertainty and confusion there is linked to LEO. This “front runner” status and broad target market made OneWeb an attractive target for any ESA manufacturer looking to raise its profile through association. Notable examples include Istropic Systems, which in 2018 announced it was to develop an ultra-low-cost consumer broadband terminal for OneWeb primed for various end-user applications, and US-based Wafer, a company self-funded by OneWeb founder, Greg Wyler, which was reported to be working toward delivering a low-cost ESA for the LEO network this year. The need to remain relevant in the seemingly inevitable era of LEO isn’t reserved solely for ESA vendors. In March 2020, Intellian and Cobham signed contracts to manufacture “more traditional” parabolic user terminals destined for OneWeb’s prospective enterprise, cellular backhaul, maritime and government clients. OneWeb’s bankruptcy will no doubt have repercussions here too but Intellian and Cobham are arguably better placed to cushion the blow by being able to fall back on existing GEO business segments, most notably maritime connectivity where the two have a combined 70 per cent share of active installed VSAT terminals. Furthermore, despite what some may say, the current cost and fundamental physics associated with ESA’s dictates that the business case for them falls apart without NGSO constellations. This isn’t to say collaboration between ESA manufacturers and GEO operators is to be disregarded. Inmarsat, Intelsat and Viasat are just three GEO incumbents known to active in the ESA segment today. The former is understood to be keeping a close eye on ESA developments as part of continued enhancements to its GX network, which will include two new payloads in Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO) from 2022. High up on that list is a collaboration between Safran and Jet-Talk (a joint venture between ST Electronics and Satixfy) which are forging ahead with development of an ARINC 792 compliant ESA that could become the first ESA antenna certified for GX. Intelsat, meanwhile, has brought Kymeta on as a preferred supplier of Communications-on-the-Move (COTM) terminals as part of its FlexMove services. But the point here is that success will not come by competing with existing antenna technology in the GEO arena alone, especially in fixed terminal market where incumbent technology is more cost effective today. The commercial launch of large-scale LEO constellations that lend themselves to ESA’s are an essential ingredient in the mix. It can be argued that OneWeb’s fall pushes back the already overdue timeframe for a commercially ready LEO constellation becoming active by at least a year or more. Clearly then, the loss of OneWeb can only be seen as a set-back for those with a stake in the development of ESA’s and the situation is only made worse by the current stance of the other current major player, SpaceX to manufacture terminals in-house. But, as touched upon briefly above, there are positives. In the short term, a small number of solutions will be deployed in GEO mobility applications, specifically the military sector and aviation, where price sensitivity is minimal, reliability is crucial, and discretion is king. There are also other operators still pushing ahead with commitments to build NGSO constellations, most notably; SES with its O3b mPOWER MEO constellation, Amazon (with it Kuiper project), Telesat and China’s proposed Hongyun and Hongyan constellations. There could also yet be a reincarnation of OneWeb that goes on to succeed where v1.0 failed – we’ve seen that before. But what should become clear is that there is now a greater pressure on ESA manufacturers to build confidence and stand out from the crowd by forging partnerships with GEO, MEO and LEO operators, as well as influential end-users such as government departments. None of which will happen without possessing the technology to back up the rhetoric. Linked to the above, Isotropic Systems continues to work toward a 2022 launch of its terminal designed for SES’ O3b mPOWER constellation, having been chosen as a preferred supplier, along with ALCAN and Viasat. Similarly, Gilat Satellite Networks and Ball Aerospace are just two of the vendors to carry out ESA demonstrations with Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite. The former performed what is thought to be the first in-flight test of an ESA over a NGSO satellite. Telesat has also doubled down on its intentions to build a LEO constellation of 300 satellites in a March 2020 investor call. Finally, in May 2019 Boeing Phantom Works announced it will deploy its in-house built ESA on new U.S. Navy MQ-25 drones as part of a wider military contract it had won. In summary, the fall of OneWeb by no means kills off the ESA story. Far from it. But from my point of view, what it does do is both delay the arrival of commercially ready solutions hitting the market and speed up the rate at which manufacturers will drop out of the ESA race. The intensity has been turned up a notch and what we should now see is the cream to rise to the top. [/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Apax Vobiscum

Inmarsat started off in 1979 as the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT), a non-profit intergovernmental organisation created to establish and operate a satellite communications network for maritime use. They were funded by a group of 28 mainly maritime nations. In 1999, this rose to 86 countries and at the same time the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) was introduced which allows safety, distress, navigation and weather broadcasts to be sent and received by any vessel – this is quite a convoluted history and not to be described here. Inmarsat and its array of geostationary orbit satellites took care of this.

In the mid to late 1990s, funding for new satellites became an issue. The original satellites used had been launched by the US Navy and by the European Space Agency (ESA). The life expectancy of a satellite in geostationary orbit is almost the same as for a domestic fridge/freezer, about 15-17 years, so a regular input of a large amount of capital is required. In 1998, it was agreed that Inmarsat would be ‘privatised’ although obligations for maintaining the system for public (maritime and avionic) safety were imposed. Inmarsat was the first international satellite organisation to be privatised. Originally it was owned as a private company by the signatory governments but APAX and Permira (both global investment firms) bought a majority stake in 2003 before floating it in 2005. The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2005

Since then Inmarsat has had its ups and downs. It was added to the FTSE 100 in 2008 and deleted in 2011, in again in 2015 and out again in 2016. In mid-2018, a rival satellite operator put in a bid to buy Inmarsat for 532p per share but that fell through. It was revealed this week that a consortium led by APAX is considering a bid for the company offering 550p per share, valuing the company at roughly £2.5 billion (US$3.3 billion).

What are the upsides of such an acquisition?

APAX is familiar with the business as they took Inmarsat public initially and have had stakes in Intelsat, Vizada (ex France Télécom Mobile Satellite Communications) and Telenor. Its French partner currently owns Marlink, the world’s largest maritime supplier of satellite communications including Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) and Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) services. Conveniently, it is one of Inmarsat’s biggest customers. Given Inmarsat’s already established penchant for vertical integration, this would doubtless be a boon.

A benefit of private ownership is the increase in focus as the ‘owners’ have more skin in the game and there is considerably less barracking from disgruntled shareholders should there be a blip in progress. Private companies can make decisions far more quickly than publically listed companies and, in general, are far more efficient. Inmarsat has acquired a number of down-stream service suppliers to the maritime industry that could be consolidated into a more dynamic supply force, bearing in mind that the UK Monopolies Commission (or any other country’s regulatory body) may have reservations about the reduction in competition.

A study in 2015 (Private versus public corporate ownership: Implications for future profitability – Kristian D. Allee – Assistant Professor University of Wisconsin, Brad A. Badertscher – Associate Professor University of Notre Dame and Teri Lombardi Yohn – Professor Indiana University) concluded that private companies are more profitable which they attribute to short-term focus in publicly-listed companies that have dividends and consistent profits to worry about.

This brings out another upside which is the ability of a privately held company to seriously consider long-term strategy goals. Changes in technology and the weathering (yes, space-weathering is a thing) means that Inmarsat has to have a rolling program for satellite upgrades and replacement and most programs range around 10-15 years long. Should the idea of an Internet in space (which Valour Consultancy particularly admires) become popular and competitors, or even Inmarsat, initiate a synergy between Geo-Stationary satellite and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) networks, then, as a private company, Inmarsat can quickly join in.

What are the downsides of such an acquisition?

Because Inmarsat is in the top 250 companies in the UK, raising capital for future investment should not be too much of a problem but it is considerably easier for a publicly listed company to arrange external finance than it is for private company, even one backed by such a large consortium of wealthy players.
In Inmarsat’s case company valuation and profile are not really an issue but being owned by a consortium of investment companies and pension funds does bring its own risks. No matter how much they may claim that their strategy is long-term, the nature of such beasts can be fickle. APAX has experience in the industry but also has experience in selling such companies on.

Finally there is the thorny issue of obligation and regulation. Inmarsat provides GMDSS services and these cannot be allowed to fail. If, for some reason, as a private company, Inmarsat was to run into trouble, then political entities would have to step in to save it and that always causes a backlash from the general public. Or another satellite company beginning with I would see some significant upsides.

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[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="no" equal_height_columns="no" menu_anchor="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" background_color="" background_image="" background_position="center center" background_repeat="no-repeat" fade="no" background_parallax="none" parallax_speed="0.3" video_mp4="" video_webm="" video_ogv="" video_url="" video_aspect_ratio="16:9" video_loop="yes" video_mute="yes" overlay_color="" video_preview_image="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" padding_top="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" padding_right=""][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" layout="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" border_position="all" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding_top="" padding_right="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" center_content="no" last="no" min_height="" hover_type="none" link=""][fusion_imageframe image_id="4849|full" max_width="" style_type="" blur="" stylecolor="" hover_type="none" bordersize="" bordercolor="" borderradius="" align="none" lightbox="no" gallery_id="" lightbox_image="" lightbox_image_id="" alt="" link="" linktarget="_self" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""]http://217.199.187.200/valourconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Inmarsat-min-1024x768-1.jpg[/fusion_imageframe][fusion_separator style_type="default" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" sep_color="#ffffff" top_margin="20" bottom_margin="20" border_size="" icon="" icon_circle="" icon_circle_color="" width="" alignment="center" /][fusion_text]Inmarsat started off in 1979 as the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT), a non-profit intergovernmental organisation created to establish and operate a satellite communications network for maritime use. They were funded by a group of 28 mainly maritime nations. In 1999, this rose to 86 countries and at the same time the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) was introduced which allows safety, distress, navigation and weather broadcasts to be sent and received by any vessel – this is quite a convoluted history and not to be described here. Inmarsat and its array of geostationary orbit satellites took care of this. In the mid to late 1990s, funding for new satellites became an issue. The original satellites used had been launched by the US Navy and by the European Space Agency (ESA). The life expectancy of a satellite in geostationary orbit is almost the same as for a domestic fridge/freezer, about 15-17 years, so a regular input of a large amount of capital is required. In 1998, it was agreed that Inmarsat would be ‘privatised’ although obligations for maintaining the system for public (maritime and avionic) safety were imposed. Inmarsat was the first international satellite organisation to be privatised. Originally it was owned as a private company by the signatory governments but APAX and Permira (both global investment firms) bought a majority stake in 2003 before floating it in 2005. The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2005 Since then Inmarsat has had its ups and downs. It was added to the FTSE 100 in 2008 and deleted in 2011, in again in 2015 and out again in 2016. In mid-2018, a rival satellite operator put in a bid to buy Inmarsat for 532p per share but that fell through. It was revealed this week that a consortium led by APAX is considering a bid for the company offering 550p per share, valuing the company at roughly £2.5 billion (US$3.3 billion). What are the upsides of such an acquisition? APAX is familiar with the business as they took Inmarsat public initially and have had stakes in Intelsat, Vizada (ex France Télécom Mobile Satellite Communications) and Telenor. Its French partner currently owns Marlink, the world’s largest maritime supplier of satellite communications including Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) and Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) services. Conveniently, it is one of Inmarsat’s biggest customers. Given Inmarsat’s already established penchant for vertical integration, this would doubtless be a boon. A benefit of private ownership is the increase in focus as the ‘owners’ have more skin in the game and there is considerably less barracking from disgruntled shareholders should there be a blip in progress. Private companies can make decisions far more quickly than publically listed companies and, in general, are far more efficient. Inmarsat has acquired a number of down-stream service suppliers to the maritime industry that could be consolidated into a more dynamic supply force, bearing in mind that the UK Monopolies Commission (or any other country’s regulatory body) may have reservations about the reduction in competition. A study in 2015 (Private versus public corporate ownership: Implications for future profitability – Kristian D. Allee - Assistant Professor University of Wisconsin, Brad A. Badertscher - Associate Professor University of Notre Dame and Teri Lombardi Yohn - Professor Indiana University) concluded that private companies are more profitable which they attribute to short-term focus in publicly-listed companies that have dividends and consistent profits to worry about. This brings out another upside which is the ability of a privately held company to seriously consider long-term strategy goals. Changes in technology and the weathering (yes, space-weathering is a thing) means that Inmarsat has to have a rolling program for satellite upgrades and replacement and most programs range around 10-15 years long. Should the idea of an Internet in space (which Valour Consultancy particularly admires) become popular and competitors, or even Inmarsat, initiate a synergy between Geo-Stationary satellite and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) networks, then, as a private company, Inmarsat can quickly join in. What are the downsides of such an acquisition? Because Inmarsat is in the top 250 companies in the UK, raising capital for future investment should not be too much of a problem but it is considerably easier for a publicly listed company to arrange external finance than it is for private company, even one backed by such a large consortium of wealthy players. In Inmarsat’s case company valuation and profile are not really an issue but being owned by a consortium of investment companies and pension funds does bring its own risks. No matter how much they may claim that their strategy is long-term, the nature of such beasts can be fickle. APAX has experience in the industry but also has experience in selling such companies on. Finally there is the thorny issue of obligation and regulation. Inmarsat provides GMDSS services and these cannot be allowed to fail. If, for some reason, as a private company, Inmarsat was to run into trouble, then political entities would have to step in to save it and that always causes a backlash from the general public. Or another satellite company beginning with I would see some significant upsides.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Salts and Battery

Recent interest in reviving mining in Cornwall, the United Kingdom, to obtain Lithium has been reported in The Memo.

A problem facing Cornwall, should the consortium discover sufficient concentrations of lithium, is that it will require large amounts of energy to extract. In Cornwall, geothermal springs are proposed to generate the energy needed. Another problem is what can be described as the law of diminishing marginal returns.

The largest share of commercial lithium, about 45%, is obtained from lithium minerals containing lithia, Li2O, such as spodumene, petalite and lepidolite. It is mined from fresh, unweathered zones in the pegmatite that are exposed in open pits. Mining is traditional drill and blast method with ore graded and stockpiled according to its mineralogical characteristics and grade, the largest producer being Talison Lithium in Greenbushes, Western Australia. This is a relatively cheap way of mining and is easily scaled up.

In Salar de Atacama, Chile, Albermarle Corporation supplied 33% of the total world supply, 43,000 metric tonnes (MT), in 2017 from brines harvested in the desert. Lesser production is on the Tibetan plateau, China (Lake Zabuye after which the mineral zabuyelite, a form of lithium carbonate, Li2CO3, is named), and in Zimbabwe, Nevada, USA, and Argentina where the water in the lithium brine is allowed to evaporate from salt pools using the sun as a power source. This takes a year or so but is very cost effective. Where so-called forced evaporation techniques are utilised, costs increase and margins for profit become squeezed.

There are other potential sources of lithium in existence. A massive deposit has been found in Sichuan, China, and has started to be exploited; Bikita Minerals in Masvingo province, Zimbabwe, is said to have a deposit of 11 million tonnes of lithium bearing ore and in Canada, significant deposits suitable for open pit mining have been found in Quebec, Ontario, and Northwest Territories.

Lithium is not an abundant mineral, but it is by no means rare, so, theoretically, there is sufficient supply to meet world current and potential future annual demand, which, by 2025 is expected to be in the region of 1 Million MT. Other minerals such as nickel and cobalt or even manufactured products such as graphene are more likely to be the constrained variables.

This implies that the current price levels for lithium are unlikely to become the norm and industry veterans speaking at the BMO Global Metals and Mining Conference in February this year predict a price plateau of less than $15 per kilogram for battery grade lithium carbonate stretching to 2025 and hold a similar outlook for lithium hydroxide.

But that is not the whole picture. Unlike gold, silver, iron, oil and coal, lithium is not really a freely-traded mineral. Indeed, most lithium trades are between a very small number of suppliers and a slightly larger pool of users. According to Macquarie Bank, just four suppliers control 85% of production. Chile’s SQM and U.S. companies, FMC Corp and Albemarle Corporation, are the three major players, all extracting lithium from salt lakes in Chile and Argentina. Albemarle Corporation also operates a brine operation in Nevada using geothermal power for evaporation. The fourth producer is the Australian Talison, which produces lithium at the Greenbushes mine in Western Australia. But it is not an independent, being 49%-owned by Albemarle Corporation and 51% by China’s Tianqi Lithium, which takes almost all the mine’s output for processing in China.

Recent rises in lithium prices, six-fold since 1980, have encouraged many miners to construct large-scale mining and production facilities such as the Altura Mining Company’s Pilgangoora project in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia. Indeed, since Chile and SQM have come to an agreement concerning increased production levels, and Bolivia’s national lithium company, Comibol, which has access to a reported 25% of the world’s resources in its 10,000 square kilometres Salar de Uyuni salt flat, the world’s largest, has started making nominal shipments of refined lithium carbonate, it may be the case that production levels match or even exceed demand. However, the political environment in Bolivia has yet to inspire interested companies to assist Comibol to develop production.

As Motley Fool says – “One key risk I see with lithium is not that supply increases and prices fall (though that is a key risk), it’s that the miners spend big on marginal expansions or poor acquisitions. If you’re going to be a long-term owner of lithium miners, their capital allocation decisions are going to prove at least as important as the growth in electric vehicles demand, even though people focus on the latter and basically ignore the former.” Thus, the great danger for production is that, as a marginal producer, it is very easily destroyed by a sudden fall in prices.

But that is still not the whole picture. On the demand side, lithium use is increasing almost exponentially. In 2015, the total demand was somewhere between 163,000 and 184,000 tonnes, 40 per cent (approximately 65,000 – 74,000 tonnes) of which went into lithium-ion batteries, ceramics and glass accounted for 25 per cent, with medicines, greases and polymers making up much of the rest. If lithium-ion batteries are to become the reservoir of energy that Tesla, and the major car manufacturers think they will, then use of lithium for energy storage will likely triple within the next decade and supply will need to rise equally. However, it is a truism that technological innovation is overestimated in the short-term and underestimated in the long-term. This is illustrated by the hype-cycle which engineers will instantly recognise as a second-order response to an impulse input.

The Hype Loop

(source: The Hype Circle – Wikipedia)

Things rarely continue as expected. Lithium-ion batteries may be an exception but it is unlikely. At the moment, lithium-ion energy storage consists of putting batteries, slightly bigger than size AA, in series. The Tesla car has roughly 8,000 of these in series packed in the car’s base, as does every other electric car manufacturer we checked. This is not a bad thing as the majority of the safety and recharging issues have been addressed and further advances are expected. Tesla’s Powerwall, which is used domestically and as grid storage in California, is a package of little batteries. Tesla, along with several others, has a solution for the problems of venting, thermal runaway and cell ageing. This is done with minimal decrease in energy density. There is also a less acknowledged issue of the multiple connection points required. Many connections with slight differential heating and cooling creates numerous failure points. Such failures are quite rare, making such systems relatively more secure than many others, but they will occur.

There are research teams all over the world searching for fixes for the various issues that need to be addressed. This includes infusing electrolytes with nano-diamonds (exquisitely small carbon particles to halt dendritic growth of short-circuit paths), or graphene balls, or even graphene-based batteries.

There is also active research continuing in all aspects of batteries, from anode, cathode, separator membranes, solid-state electrolytes allowing lithium metal anodes, safety, thermal control, packaging, to cell construction and battery management. Lithium-air (Li-O2) and Lithium-sulphur (Li-S) can achieve impressively high-energy density in theory and have again attracted much attention recently. Although zinc-air and high-temperature sodium-sulphur have been commercialised for a while, the development of rechargeable Li-O2 and Li-S batteries still have some technical barriers such as low-cycle efficiency and dendrite growth.

Though not energy dense, we have sodium-manganese salt water batteries for large storage, which are both inexpensive and safe. Flow batteries also come into the equation but are large and much less efficient (though are considered viable up to 10 MWh). Researchers, at Washington State University, are working on graphene-based sodium-ion batteries that might provide a less expensive, viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Sodium batteries are unable to hold as much energy, but their low cost makes them attractive for mid- to large-scale energy storage systems, such as for storing energy from solar power or wind farms.

Of course, energy storage for elimination of grid failures and fluctuations seems a given, but energy storage for moving, flying and sailing vehicles is not necessarily a necessity since wireless energy transfer may become available in decades to come. There already exist patents for Casimir Effect engines which use the virtual energy to drive space vehicles (the Cannae Drive). These are postulated as possible spaceship drives. For more earth-bound needs, power needs to be transmitted through either capacitive coupling (still largely inimical to human well-being) or resonant inductive coupling which might be possible for road-traversing vehicles (providing they stick to prescribed routes) or radiative coupling using lasers or microwaves.

The conclusion of mining lithium for enterprise purposes in Cornwall include many factors: social, political and strategic. Financial gain is not one.

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Recent interest in reviving mining in Cornwall, the United Kingdom, to obtain Lithium has been reported in The Memo. A problem facing Cornwall, should the consortium discover sufficient concentrations of lithium, is that it will require large amounts of energy to extract. In Cornwall, geothermal springs are proposed to generate the energy needed. Another problem is what can be described as the law of diminishing marginal returns. The largest share of commercial lithium, about 45%, is obtained from lithium minerals containing lithia, Li2O, such as spodumene, petalite and lepidolite. It is mined from fresh, unweathered zones in the pegmatite that are exposed in open pits. Mining is traditional drill and blast method with ore graded and stockpiled according to its mineralogical characteristics and grade, the largest producer being Talison Lithium in Greenbushes, Western Australia. This is a relatively cheap way of mining and is easily scaled up. In Salar de Atacama, Chile, Albermarle Corporation supplied 33% of the total world supply, 43,000 metric tonnes (MT), in 2017 from brines harvested in the desert. Lesser production is on the Tibetan plateau, China (Lake Zabuye after which the mineral zabuyelite, a form of lithium carbonate, Li2CO3, is named), and in Zimbabwe, Nevada, USA, and Argentina where the water in the lithium brine is allowed to evaporate from salt pools using the sun as a power source. This takes a year or so but is very cost effective. Where so-called forced evaporation techniques are utilised, costs increase and margins for profit become squeezed. There are other potential sources of lithium in existence. A massive deposit has been found in Sichuan, China, and has started to be exploited; Bikita Minerals in Masvingo province, Zimbabwe, is said to have a deposit of 11 million tonnes of lithium bearing ore and in Canada, significant deposits suitable for open pit mining have been found in Quebec, Ontario, and Northwest Territories. Lithium is not an abundant mineral, but it is by no means rare, so, theoretically, there is sufficient supply to meet world current and potential future annual demand, which, by 2025 is expected to be in the region of 1 Million MT. Other minerals such as nickel and cobalt or even manufactured products such as graphene are more likely to be the constrained variables. This implies that the current price levels for lithium are unlikely to become the norm and industry veterans speaking at the BMO Global Metals and Mining Conference in February this year predict a price plateau of less than $15 per kilogram for battery grade lithium carbonate stretching to 2025 and hold a similar outlook for lithium hydroxide. But that is not the whole picture. Unlike gold, silver, iron, oil and coal, lithium is not really a freely-traded mineral. Indeed, most lithium trades are between a very small number of suppliers and a slightly larger pool of users. According to Macquarie Bank, just four suppliers control 85% of production. Chile’s SQM and U.S. companies, FMC Corp and Albemarle Corporation, are the three major players, all extracting lithium from salt lakes in Chile and Argentina. Albemarle Corporation also operates a brine operation in Nevada using geothermal power for evaporation. The fourth producer is the Australian Talison, which produces lithium at the Greenbushes mine in Western Australia. But it is not an independent, being 49%-owned by Albemarle Corporation and 51% by China’s Tianqi Lithium, which takes almost all the mine’s output for processing in China. Recent rises in lithium prices, six-fold since 1980, have encouraged many miners to construct large-scale mining and production facilities such as the Altura Mining Company’s Pilgangoora project in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia. Indeed, since Chile and SQM have come to an agreement concerning increased production levels, and Bolivia’s national lithium company, Comibol, which has access to a reported 25% of the world’s resources in its 10,000 square kilometres Salar de Uyuni salt flat, the world’s largest, has started making nominal shipments of refined lithium carbonate, it may be the case that production levels match or even exceed demand. However, the political environment in Bolivia has yet to inspire interested companies to assist Comibol to develop production. As Motley Fool says – “One key risk I see with lithium is not that supply increases and prices fall (though that is a key risk), it’s that the miners spend big on marginal expansions or poor acquisitions. If you’re going to be a long-term owner of lithium miners, their capital allocation decisions are going to prove at least as important as the growth in electric vehicles demand, even though people focus on the latter and basically ignore the former.” Thus, the great danger for production is that, as a marginal producer, it is very easily destroyed by a sudden fall in prices. But that is still not the whole picture. On the demand side, lithium use is increasing almost exponentially. In 2015, the total demand was somewhere between 163,000 and 184,000 tonnes, 40 per cent (approximately 65,000 - 74,000 tonnes) of which went into lithium-ion batteries, ceramics and glass accounted for 25 per cent, with medicines, greases and polymers making up much of the rest. If lithium-ion batteries are to become the reservoir of energy that Tesla, and the major car manufacturers think they will, then use of lithium for energy storage will likely triple within the next decade and supply will need to rise equally. However, it is a truism that technological innovation is overestimated in the short-term and underestimated in the long-term. This is illustrated by the hype-cycle which engineers will instantly recognise as a second-order response to an impulse input. The Hype Loop (source: The Hype Circle - Wikipedia) Things rarely continue as expected. Lithium-ion batteries may be an exception but it is unlikely. At the moment, lithium-ion energy storage consists of putting batteries, slightly bigger than size AA, in series. The Tesla car has roughly 8,000 of these in series packed in the car’s base, as does every other electric car manufacturer we checked. This is not a bad thing as the majority of the safety and recharging issues have been addressed and further advances are expected. Tesla’s Powerwall, which is used domestically and as grid storage in California, is a package of little batteries. Tesla, along with several others, has a solution for the problems of venting, thermal runaway and cell ageing. This is done with minimal decrease in energy density. There is also a less acknowledged issue of the multiple connection points required. Many connections with slight differential heating and cooling creates numerous failure points. Such failures are quite rare, making such systems relatively more secure than many others, but they will occur. There are research teams all over the world searching for fixes for the various issues that need to be addressed. This includes infusing electrolytes with nano-diamonds (exquisitely small carbon particles to halt dendritic growth of short-circuit paths), or graphene balls, or even graphene-based batteries. There is also active research continuing in all aspects of batteries, from anode, cathode, separator membranes, solid-state electrolytes allowing lithium metal anodes, safety, thermal control, packaging, to cell construction and battery management. Lithium-air (Li-O2) and Lithium-sulphur (Li-S) can achieve impressively high-energy density in theory and have again attracted much attention recently. Although zinc-air and high-temperature sodium-sulphur have been commercialised for a while, the development of rechargeable Li-O2 and Li-S batteries still have some technical barriers such as low-cycle efficiency and dendrite growth. Though not energy dense, we have sodium-manganese salt water batteries for large storage, which are both inexpensive and safe. Flow batteries also come into the equation but are large and much less efficient (though are considered viable up to 10 MWh). Researchers, at Washington State University, are working on graphene-based sodium-ion batteries that might provide a less expensive, viable alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Sodium batteries are unable to hold as much energy, but their low cost makes them attractive for mid- to large-scale energy storage systems, such as for storing energy from solar power or wind farms. Of course, energy storage for elimination of grid failures and fluctuations seems a given, but energy storage for moving, flying and sailing vehicles is not necessarily a necessity since wireless energy transfer may become available in decades to come. There already exist patents for Casimir Effect engines which use the virtual energy to drive space vehicles (the Cannae Drive). These are postulated as possible spaceship drives. For more earth-bound needs, power needs to be transmitted through either capacitive coupling (still largely inimical to human well-being) or resonant inductive coupling which might be possible for road-traversing vehicles (providing they stick to prescribed routes) or radiative coupling using lasers or microwaves. The conclusion of mining lithium for enterprise purposes in Cornwall include many factors: social, political and strategic. Financial gain is not one.