Rocket man’s broadband firm on FTSE 100 trajectory

26 Nov 2010

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A businessman whose previous venture capital company delivered a 768pc return for investors could turn out to be the unlikely saviour of broadband in the Northern Hemisphere as his stg£120m HYLAS 1 satellite rockets into space tonight.

David Williams’ Avanti Communications aims to deliver 10Mbps broadband to rural residents and businesses in Ireland and across Europe, the Middle East and Africa for as little as €25 per month.

Williams, whose previous venture capital company Active Media Capital wound down in 2006, delivering investors a 768pc return on investment, has listed Avanti on the London Stock Exchange and told Siliconrepublic that he believes it will be successful enough to enable the firm to enter the FTSE100.

The satellite – HYLAS 1 – is the first of its kind to be launched outside the US and will lift off on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana at 18.39 GMT tonight.

The most powerful of Ariane 5’s beams will be trained on Ireland. The overall cost of the satellite is stg£120 million and has been funded by investors as well as the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency.

“We already have satellites in the sky that are designed for TV and anybody else who provides satellite broadband either charges too much or it’s heavily subsidised.

“We’ve been building two broadband satellites, the first one launches Friday and will be the first of its kind to be launched outside the US.”

Williams explained that his satellite will use KA-band technology, which can provide higher speeds than TV satellites which use KU-band technology.

“KA-band brings all the benefits of speed and technology. You can get speeds of up to 200Mbps. We’ve chosen to buy in bulk modems that typically provide home owners or office users with 10Mbps at a rational price point. We will offer modems with higher speeds to government and enterprise users.”

I asked Williams how soon a commercial iteration of the service will take to be put in place. “Testing will happen fairly quickly and we’ll spend time experimenting with the satellite, deciding on power consumption, moving frequency around, deciding how much revenue is possible and pushing it to see if there’s a higher performance possible from the satellite than it’s designed to deliver.”

Liftoff

Williams said that Avanti has already signed up a number of service providers in Ireland to deliver the service, which will cost around €25 a month. Across Europe, Avanti has signed partnerships with 60 telecoms companies.

Tonight, when the HYLAS 1 satellite lifts off on the Ariane 5 rocket, Williams will be present in French Guiana, at the European space port where he will have two duties – to give a speech and be pushed into a swimming pool.

Williams explained that Avanti was formed 10 years by himself and his business partner, astrophysicist David Bestwick.

Avanti, he said, is listed on the London Stock Exchange with a stg£750m capitalisation. “We have two satellites fully financed and the second will be launched in early 2012 to enable us to provide more capacity into the Middle East and Africa.

“Our intention is to finance and build more satellites to secure early mover advantage. If we get four satellites launched there’s a reasonable chance of Avanti becoming a FTSE 100 company.”

Williams is confident he can do it, and he certainly has the pedigree to prove it. “My earliest investments have made 15 times their money and the latest investment delivered a 50pc return in less than a year.”

He concluded by saying that at present brokers are assuming Avanti will deliver €2 earnings per share. “But stg£40 could be achievable,” he said.

To see the live launch go here

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com