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Year in Review with Kevin Dunne

In this Q&A session, Satcom.Digital dive into the world of satellite communications with Kevin Dunne, CEO of ETL Systems. With an extensive background in the satellite industry, Kevin brings with him over 20 years’ experience in RF Systems within Satellite and Defence communications markets. Before joining ETL, he was Vice President and Managing Director of the Microwave, Microelectronics and Secure Communications Divisions of API Technologies Corporation and has significant experience of leading technology companies. A skillset he's now applying to help ETL Systems unlock the next phase of its growth journey.

Read on to explore the challenges, innovations, and future prospects of satellite communication, guided by Kevin's expertise.
Kevin Dunne, ETL CEO

It’s your first year at the helm of ETL systems - what attracted you to take the CEO role and how have your first few months with the company been ETL?

I was drawn to the role of CEO at ETL Systems by the company's long-standing reputation as a solutioneering leader in RF distribution within the satellite communications market. 

ETL's growth trajectory and its significant presence in this fast-evolving industry were particularly enticing. I viewed this opportunity as a chance for both myself and the company to make a substantial impact in a dynamic field. 

While the satellite industry has not always been known for its rapid pace, it’s currently undergoing a transformative shift, driven by emerging technologies. I'm immensely proud to be part of this change and to contribute to the evolving landscape of the satellite communications industry.

In my first few months at ETL, I've been focused on immersing myself in the company's operations, building relationships with the teams, and gaining a deep understanding of our organisational dynamics. Additionally, I've been proactive in meeting with our customers to learn more about their expectations and to connect with key industry figures. 


What are your priorities this year as ETL’s new CEO?

My priorities for this year at ETL Systems encompass several key areas. Firstly, we're committed to maintaining our reputation for innovative design and technological leadership. We're actively evolving our offerings to meet the growing demand for digitised ground infrastructure solutions, aligning with market requirements. 

Secondly, we're deeply committed to our heritage as a significant RF development organisation. As we venture into the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) environment and higher frequency bands, we're dedicated to enhancing our RF capabilities and delivering higher performance RF offerings.

Supporting our growth is another critical priority. We're ensuring that our business infrastructure can effectively accommodate our expansion plans, emphasising the scaling of our operations and enhancing our engineering capabilities.

Additionally, recognising the dynamic and evolving nature of the satellite communications industry, we're making strategic investments in areas and capabilities that align with the changing industry landscape, ensuring that we're always headed in the right direction.

Given the current industry trends, the transition towards virtualised environments and software-driven satellites is a significant driver. However, we remain mindful of the enduring presence of RF infrastructure, and we're committed to balancing our focus to cater to both these market areas effectively.

Since joining the company in January 2023, I've spent time actively listening to our teams and understanding market drivers to ensure that we're well-aligned to drive the business forward. 

Furthermore, we're building the internal infrastructure necessary to support our customers' growth, from a development, operational, and quality execution perspective. In summary, we are adapting to a dynamic industry landscape while staying true to our roots as innovators in RF distribution.


And how are you looking to grow the company in an industry that seems to be going through some major changes, not least this trend toward virtualisation?

In an industry undergoing significant changes, especially with the trend toward virtualisation and the evolving landscape of GEO, MEO, and LEO satellites, our strategy for growing the company revolves around several key principles. 

One of our primary focuses is on ensuring the seamless interoperation of these satellite constellations and the ground infrastructure that supports them. This involves addressing the integration challenges posed by the convergence of the traditional telecoms market with satellite communications.

Flexibility is paramount in this evolving environment. Our customers and the market as a whole are demanding adaptable ground systems, spanning the RF and digital domains. We recognised this shift years ago and have been actively developing technologies that support this transition. We've invested in digital solutions that bridge the gap between RF components and modems in a digital environment, going beyond traditional RF distribution setups.

Our involvement in the DIFI consortium, particularly with a key ETL presence on the board, allows us to influence and contribute to the standards that promote network interoperability. This positions us well to facilitate the transition to digital infrastructure with our existing product offerings and our development roadmap, which includes our cutting-edge Genus Digital solution for ground infrastructure and teleport systems.

That said, while the industry is undoubtedly moving toward virtualisation, there remains a significant demand for RF infrastructure. 

We understand that the transition to a fully virtualised environment will take time, and various industry players have different perspectives on the timeframe. We're positioning ourselves with technology that enables us to navigate this transition seamlessly. Our Genus Digital IF system, designed to facilitate the coexistence of RF and digital infrastructure, is a testament to our readiness for this evolution. 

As we move forward, there is a growing interest in how we can provide comprehensive solutions that cater to both sides of the equation, making us a vital partner in the ever-evolving satellite communications industry. We're dedicated to supporting satellite operators and teleport developers. 


Is virtualisation a threat for companies like yours that still have a very heavy hardware focus? And what’s next for ETL Systems? 

The industry's pivot towards virtualisation presents both challenges and opportunities for a company like ETL Systems, which has traditionally had a strong hardware focus. We recognise the need for extensive collaboration within the industry to facilitate this transition. Standardisation, spearheaded by initiatives like DIFI, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the digital ground environment. These standards are defined collectively by key industry players, underlining the commitment to making this transformation work for the broader ground system infrastructure.

Our industry is in the midst of a transformation, and our primary objective is to provide our customers with agile and flexible systems to meet their evolving needs. We still view analog RF as a substantial contributor to ground infrastructure for the foreseeable future. Our focus is on evolving our systems to offer a range of options, whether it's traditional RF, pure digital, or a hybrid approach, to cater to the diverse RF equipment landscape that exists today.

While the industry trends toward virtualisation, the need for RF persists. Our expertise in both RF and the digital domain positions us to provide customers with versatile ground systems that can adapt as the industry evolves. 

The transition to a fully virtualised environment will be gradual, with some customers more advanced in their understanding of digital infrastructure's benefits than others. We anticipate early adopters exploring the possibilities, while others continue to rely on RF until digital infrastructure becomes more established.

We see digitisation of RF signals as a promising area for government customers and have a deep understanding of their development roadmaps which we are aligning our equipment, developments, and engagement approaches to meet their specific needs. 

The challenge lies in managing the pace of implementation as technology advances and aligning with the broader industry for a cohesive transition.

As for our upcoming products and changes, our Genus Digital system, designed to bridge the analog and digital worlds, will be a primary focus. We are also continuing to evolve our modular RF systems, providing agility and flexibility for customers across various components. Additionally, we have new noise generators, telemetry translators, and satellite simulators in our Genus range.

In response to the growing LEO satellite market, we've developed a compact Hawk matrix to offer flexibility and cost-effectiveness. Partnerships are vital in this evolving landscape, and we've already collaborated with the European Space Agency on our Genus Digital development. We're exploring further opportunities to partner with other organisations in technology development. As the industry increasingly embraces collaboration and standards, finding the right partners becomes crucial in supporting the overall infrastructure.


The company received private equity investment in 2020 for expansion — what came of that?

The big focus from the private investment was making sure that the business could and can support the growth profile forecasted. Making sure that we've got the right leadership, team structure and facilities in place to support that growth.  

The business has been growing at a very healthy pace, double-digit growth pretty much every year for the last couple of decades. That’s fantastic, but with that comes its own challenges of making sure that you can keep pace both from a management perspective and from an infrastructure point of view. 

So really this was an investment with that in mind to make sure that Ian and Esen, who have led the business for many years, could take a step back and focus on some of the more technical and commercial sides of the business. And that's why I'm here now, to make sure that the business is scaling appropriately. 


Do you expect M&A in the market this year, and what role could your company play in that? Buyer or seller, etc?

The market is seeing a lot of consolidation. There's a number of acquisitions and mergers going on amongst the big players.

It’s very obvious that multi-constellation is the big focus because there's a lot of the smaller LEO players merging with the bigger GEO players in the market. Everyone's pairing up because from a scale point of view, it’s going to be very difficult to do on an individual basis. That's something that we're conscious of. We have a customer base that satisfies most of those parties so it's really about how we navigate that.  

On the other side of the equation, growth is a key priority for us. So there are and potentially could be acquisition opportunities. We are open to looking at how we grow and how we follow our strategic plan. We will continue to look at a combination of organic and inorganic opportunities as we move forward. 

Taking it back to the start of the interview, the key focus for us is on making sure that we're keeping a close eye on what the market is doing and that we are agile and responsive to that. 


Interviewed by Satcom.Digital