Keeping us Connected

Norsat International

Norsat International is keeping us connected. The Vancouver based company is a leading provider of innovative communication solutions that enable the transmission of data, audio and video for remote and challenging applications…

From the deserts of Iraq to Canada’s arctic north, “we will hook you up no matter what it takes,” Norsat President and CEO Dr. Amiee Chan explains. Industry insiders have taken note – and consistently ranked Norsat among the top technology companies in Canada and the top 100 public companies in British Columbia. Norsat was also recently recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in British Columbia.

Norsat’s products and services include leading-edge product design and development, production, distribution and in-field support and service of flyaway satellite terminals, microwave components, M2M Solutions, antennas, Radio Frequency (RF) conditioning products, maritime based satellite terminals and remote network connectivity solutions.

Typical Norsat customers include telecommunications services providers, emergency services and homeland security agencies, military organizations, health care providers, news organizations and Fortune 1000 companies. The company’s products and services are specifically – and extensively – used by NATO, the United States Department of Defense, the Marine Corps, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, FOX News, CBS News, Reuters, Boeing, Motorola, TESSCO, and General Dynamics.

Indeed, Norsat’s services and products are critically important to communities that would be cut off from communication without the company’s help. “We don’t focus on the urban centres where communication is abundant,” Dr. Chan points out. “We focus on the really tough to get to places.” The results are often life changing. For instance, the team has provided internet access and reliable phone service to a number of remote villages in northern Canada for the first time. This connectivity is crucial, Dr. Chan explains, because people in these communities are often unable to contact emergency services. “People are dying because they can’t make a call to an ambulance.” Now, lives are being saved by a simple telephone call. Furthermore, internet connectivity enables health care professionals to provide long distance treatment after the initial medical emergency has been addressed.

Norsat puts a tremendous amount of effort into research and development in order to continue supplying the best, most up to date solutions. “Our R&D efforts are directed toward enhancing existing product lines and introducing new products,” Dr. Chan reports. One notable R&D success is the GLOBETrekker 2.0, Norsat’s flagship product for its satellite division. The product’s portability and ability to maintain reliable connectivity in locations with damaged or non-existent infrastructure make it ideal for mission critical communications. The rugged system was developed for NATO’s Information & Communication Agency and is now available to the 28 NATO member countries.

Norsat has also been busy developing a leading edge M2M (machine to machine) solution. “‘M2M’ has become a real buzzword lately,” Dr. Chan explains. “[It is] being deemed a ‘disruptive technology’ that is changing the face of almost every sector of the economy – agriculture, construction, health, manufacturing, natural resources and energy, utilities, transportation, retail – you name it.” The trendy new technology enables machines to communicate with other devices in real-time and record data that can be easily collected and analysed from remote locations. Sentinel RMC, Norsat’s first M2M product, has enabled the company to enter the Oil & Gas market for the first time and has successfully been deployed within that industry. The flexible solution is also an ideal fit for other resource markets and government applications.

Perhaps most remarkably, these products – and many more like them – were developed to meet the customer’s individual needs. “The customization of our systems for specific customers is definitely something that sets us apart from our competitors,” Dr. Chan explains. In fact, customer care is as important to the team as the leading edge technology that it provides. “Not only do we have equipment that will work anywhere,” Dr. Chan points out, “but we’ll support our customers at any time they may call. I think that is a huge value-add for our customers and it’s a big part of what differentiates us from the competition. Developing new products and business units is one thing, but providing the peace of mind that comes with being a trusted partner is what keeps our customers happy and coming back.”

Norsat takes pride in providing in-depth customer support anytime, day or night. For example, when the earthquake hit Haiti three years ago, JPASE (Joint Public Affairs Support Element) needed to bring in satellite ground terminals as quickly as possible. The organization was already using Norsat’s product, but these satellite ground terminals had been destined for another country and weren’t configured for use in Haiti. “In order to get the terminals up and running, JPASE reached out to Norsat customer support late at night,” Dr. Chan recalls. “And the support team was able to reconfigure the terminals from afar, enabling the JPASE team to mobilize quickly and communicate the results of their efforts easily.”

Norsat’s current success makes it hard to believe that the company faced serious financial struggles just a few years ago. But, in 2006, the company was actually facing financial ruin. The team realized that serious action had to be taken to turn the company around. They asked Dr. Chan to take over and she attacked the underlying problems head on. “I knew right away that it was a sink or swim situation,” she shares. Her strategy included several key elements: she immediately reduced ongoing operating expenses and ensured that additional costs and new investments were fully scrutinized; she also outsourced non-core functions to partners and suppliers. At the same time, Dr. Chan intensified Norsat’s product development to immediate or near term revenue opportunities. She also concentrated on existing customers while adding global resellers to increase sales. Finally, she empowered the management team to manage their own budgets – and remain within them. The results were astonishing. “We were able to revive the company,” Dr. Chan remarks, “and, most importantly, turn the company to profitability.” Revenue jumped from $13.5 million in 2006 to $42.3 million in 2012.

The company’s recovery was so successful, in fact, that the team began acquiring other companies – and turning them around too. These mergers and acquisitions have expanded the company’s product lines and created substantial growth. “That is definitely a big focus for us right now,” Dr. Chan reports, “although we continue to work on organic growth.” When considering a new acquisition, Norsat looks for several key factors: the ability to provide communication solutions in challenging environments; provide access to high-end commercial markets; and increase the ability to generate stable revenue streams. “Any merger or acquisition opportunity must be attractively priced, advance our corporate objectives, and bring value to our shareholders,” Dr. Chan adds.

To this end, Norsat has recently completed two major acquisitions. In 2011, the company paid $18.5 million for Sinclair Technologies, a leading provider of antennas and radio frequency (RF) conditioning products. “Sinclair was a great fit for Norsat’s strategy because it complemented our core business and supports our goal of becoming a premium provider of communication solutions for remote and challenging applications,” Dr. Chan reports. “Just like Norsat, Sinclair products are able to operate in the harshest environments and are used all over the world.” Sinclair is now completely integrated into Norsat’s accounting and human resources structure and is already showing signs of success. In fact, Sinclair’s revenue has already shot up 20 percent, from $20.2 million in 2011 to $24.2 million in 2012.

Norsat also recently acquired a US based satellite communications business for just half a million dollars. The rock bottom price was the result of the tough economic times – and an excellent deal for Norsat. The move has added a wealth of products to Norsat’s portfolio, including solid state power amplifiers (SSPAs), high power block up converters (BUCs), SATCOM baseband kits and Microsatellite terminals (terminals with antenna sizes below 1 metre). “The acquired products and associated IP align with Norsat’s existing product roadmap and allows us to immediately enter new areas within the satellite communications markets,” Dr. Chan reports. “We are in the process of commercializing these products, and we are really excited about some of the upcoming launches.”

The team is eager to launch even more new products in the near future. They are also committed to continued growth in order to keep more and more customers connected. And, through it all, the customer will remain the company’s number one focus. “We take care of our people,” Dr. Chan insists. “Because when it comes down to it, that’s what it’s all about.”

September 25, 2017, 4:36 PM EDT

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