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The AST Group is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. CEO Andrew Peters explains how the firm has become a global leader in satellite communications.
Satellite technology has come a long way since the AST Group was founded 30 years ago in 1992.
“Satellite communications at that time were relatively new, unknown and difficult to use, but for those working in remote locations it was a necessary service – especially in far-flung territories and at sea – and that's how it all began for AST,” said Andrew Peters, CEO of the Great Yarmouth-based company, which specialises in both land and maritime satellite communications solutions worldwide.
“Although the maritime market might seem relatively forward in its use of satellite technology, it was actually a conservative business 30 years ago,” Andrew added. “The primary driver for satellite communications was simply to ensure the shore-based operating staff knew the location of their vessels.
“Over the years software technology has advanced considerably, and we are seeing a huge increase in demand for automation and enhanced services.”
AST has grown over the past 30 years, establishing offices across the globe including the USA, Australia and Singapore, as well as offices in Norfolk and Southampton. There are also sales offices in Ecuador and Indonesia. The business, under new leadership, continues to expand and provide fully-managed services.
Andrew explained that effective communication is a key part of the Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, an international treaty that sets minimum safety standards for ships. “Vessels have to be able to look after their crew and cargo while they're out at sea,” he said. “In an emergency, you have to be able to hit a security button and know that somebody is going to come and rescue you.”
Technology has developed such that the internet is provided via various satellite services with much improved data speeds. Consequently, those working remotely in mine sites, on ships and in conflict zones now have internet access and, depending upon the service, can watch movies too.
As satellite technology has advanced over the past 30 years, AST has developed its technical expertise, working with best-in-class providers, as well as its own software to provide complete remote managed data services.
“We've developed our own billing system; we've developed our own portal for customers; we've developed our terrestrial network, AST INTEGRA, which hosts various software applications including the ability to individually manage and control internet usage,” said Andrew. “We've also developed engine management, fuel monitoring and environmental services. We continue to grow our portfolio of added value services driven by market needs.
“Customers are increasingly requiring a deeper range of services including integration of radio and satellite comms, remote sensors and data analysis, alerting and bandwidth management. It’s a great deal more than just providing the hardware and air time. That’s the easy part,” he added.
“The other bit is the real value AST provides. We are investing in the software side of the business, which is considered vital to future customer service delivery. Digitalisation is, after all, here to stay.”
Andrew said AST is fortunate to have a very loyal client base, which it works closely with to discuss ideas and proposals. “They might say it’s brilliant or they might say it’s not so good – in which case we’ll develop it further – and we always keep engaged with feedback every step of the way as we develop new or add to existing services,” he concluded. “We understand customers, and we work with them very closely.”