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Iridium Readies for Second Round Satellite Launch

By Nicholas Rossolillo – May 28, 2017 at 10:46AM

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Launches will continue for the next 12 months, but it's what could happen after that that makes the company exciting to watch.

Iridium (IRDM 0.27%) recently completed the deployment of its first round of satellites for its next-generation Iridium NEXT network, and the next one is scheduled for launch next month. The new satellite array promises to usher in new possibilities in global communications, as well as take Iridium's business to the next level.

What is Iridium NEXT?

Iridium NEXT will be a new array of low-orbit satellites powering the company's Certus communications network. While mobile carriers like Verizon and AT&T are working on a 5G network for basic consumer usage, Iridium's answer for enterprise use is Certus, the only telecom network that can boast coverage of 100% of the globe's surface.

A worker in an orange jumpsuit standing on a catwalk talking into a mobile phone.

Image source: Iridium.

The satellite carrier has always set its sights on hard-to-accommodate clients, and the new satellites will expand on that coverage. Industries typically interested in the service are maritime, aviation, and government entities, but really, anyone looking for communications service in isolated areas fits the bill.

The new Certus network will expand Iridium's current offerings to include broadband data as speeds up to 1.4 Mbps will be possible once the satellite array is fully deployed. That not only opens up HD video streaming ability anywhere on the planet, but it also plays into the Internet of Things, meaning devices connected to and communicating via the internet. For businesses that operate in hard-to-reach areas, asset tracking, fleet management, remote monitoring, and remote control will be feasible on Iridium's network.

The first 10 NEXT satellites were launched by SpaceX back in January and have since been put into service. The second batch of 10 will launch on June 25. In total, SpaceX will send 75 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit over eight launches. Full deployment is on schedule for completion by the middle of next year.

What the company expects will happen

During the first quarter of the year, Iridium reported total revenue that was flat from the previous year. Service revenue was up 2.4%, offset by declines in equipment sales, in line with guidance given at the beginning of 2017.

The company's stock has bounced around quite a bit in the last few years, but it has been showing signs of life recently, with profitability on the rise after the company front-loaded paying for the new satellites.

IRDM Chart

Data by YCharts.

Iridium has also been talking up its longer-term guidance as the new services enabled by the NEXT array come on line. The company has high hopes, which it reaffirmed again during its first-quarter report, further supporting the most recent run in share prices.

Metric 2019 Guidance Full-Year 2016 Results
Service revenue (excluding equipment sales) $440 to $465 million $334.8 million
Operating EBITDA profit margin 60% 59%

Data source: Iridium Q1 2017 earnings release. Chart by author. EBITDA = earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization.

That's a big jump in service revenues over the next two years -- 31% at the low end of guidance to be exact. Driving that expected increase are the new services NEXT provides, including Internet of Things and high-speed internet offerings.

A stock poised for liftoff?

Iridium's shares may have been up and down for years, but that could change. Paired with that big expected rise in service revenues and similar profit margins by 2019 is management's view that debt will fall over the next two years. That creates the potential for a big boost to the all-important bottom line.

It remains to be seen if any of that actually transpires, but investors won't have to wait too much longer to find out. Iridium management says network subscribers have been on the rise, so subsequent quarters will show if the projected service revenue figures are achievable.

Nicholas Rossolillo owns shares of Iridium Communications. The Motley Fool recommends Iridium Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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