In an era of unpredictability, military turning to AvL Technologies for reliability, flexibility
Transportable antennas and terminals maker introduces new products, executives at Satellite 2021
AvL Technologies has become a go-to designer and manufacturer of transportable broadband SATCOM antennas and terminals for some of the most rugged and demanding users and markets on the planet.
That includes armed forces missions across the globe – where troops must quickly set up portable communications stations, even connected backpacks in the midst of intense training camps and full-on conflicts from North America to the Middle East and everywhere in between.
Broadcasters also count heavily on AvL gear to set up remote studios in no time to cover breaking news, weather disasters, and remote sporting events.
AvL Technologies serves unpredictable government, defense and broadcasting markets that have gotten even more unpredictable in the age of COVID-19. The company has thrived amid the uncertainty, and is positioning itself for success by adding more former military to the team.
We caught up with AvL’s director of marketing, Krystal Dredge, who along with the AvL team is thrilled to be back at the Satellite Conference and Exhibition after an eighteen-month delay forced by the pandemic. The company is introducing new terminal solutions, including two ultra-lightweight antennas, and new executives at the event held this year in National Harbor, Maryland.
Satellite Evolution: What is it that sets AvL Technologies’ platforms apart in these very competitive commercial and government vertical markets?
Dredge: AvL Technologies has built and earned a reputation for R&D tied directly to close collaborations on the fly with our government and commercial customers, which result in extremely durable and dependable SATCOM antenna products and solutions. We have become a go-to provider in key verticals that include oil and gas, broadcasting, emergency and first responder, and of course the military.
We’ve had antennas come back that have been hit by shrapnel and worse and they still operate. That’s the result of designing and building communications equipment meant to withstand incredibly tough, challenging, and extremely harsh environments.
I guess you could say we certainly design and manufacture antennas and terminals to the highest standards, but in many cases we throw “standard issue” out the window by designing one-offs when the military, for example, asks us to build for an extremely specific application or need in the field.
AvL is extremely well known among the three-letter defense department agencies and network broadcasters that know we will stop short of nothing to design custom solutions for our men and women in uniform as well as reporters who are also out there on the frontlines to cover the news wherever it happens.
Satellite Evolution: You’ve had a lot of activity at the AvL Technologies booth (#811) this week at Satellite 2021. What are you emphasizing most here at the conference?
Dredge: AvL has been very focused on antennas with lighter weight and smaller pack ups, even backpack antenna and terminal solutions. Government agencies are increasingly requesting smaller units so they can be easily carried or transported aboard a commercial airplane and flown anywhere.
That might sound at first a little strange to have a defense customer book transportation for an antenna pack aboard a FedEx or commercial flight. But it’s really not that uncommon today, since securing a military aircraft to transport anything involves tedious scheduling, dozens of staff and a wide range of time-consuming processes.
Historically AvL has helped the military reinvent their approach to terminal/antenna logistics and delivery. Now defense agencies can book a seat or space on a commercial passenger plane for the small terminal pack, or a cargo plane for a larger antenna, and deliver the antenna and have it set up and operational in no time.
We unveiled this week a new reflector design in the case of our 75cm and 98cm terminals, so they can be easily interchangeable with the same positioner and tripod. That makes for a much more portable and flexible package, and government and defense groups are running these in Ku-band and Ka-band for added resiliency across their remote communications networks.
This is a great example of a product offering that was first developed for a military group that absolutely needed that level of compactness and interoperability among the terminals, and now we’re making it more broadly available to other defense outfits. And interest here at Satellite 2021 is strong.
Satellite Evolution: Your bread and butter defense business has really been built on the robust, bullet-proof nature of your terminal and antenna systems. Certain commercial customers, particularly SNG providers and broadcasters, must be leveraging that same toughness that’s baked into much of your product line?
Dredge: Absolutely. When an AvL broadband terminal is consistently rugged enough for the military, it’s absolutely going to work on top of a news truck. And in many scenarios it really needs to be that tough when you consider the kinds of conditions SNG Units experience – from sporting events, to chasing down wildfires and extreme weather outbreaks and everything these situations can throw at you.
Of course, not all systems need to be quite that hardened, even when you’re building for and supporting civil and emergency applications. During the pandemic, for example, we’ve had numerous health organizations come to us with urgent needs for immediate communications capabilities as they set up remote hospitals in hard hit regions and towns.
So we provide these hospitals and their teams of doctors, nurses and caregivers with reliable communications lines and Internet connectivity over antennas that aren’t necessarily military grade but get the job done and then some. These solutions allow doctors and healthcare teams to confer with fellow physicians and specialists who must often make difficult decisions on the spot via satellite.
Satellite Evolution: How did the pandemic impact AvL? Did you see a slow down or an uptick in business?
Dredge: Our business continues to remain very strong throughout the pandemic, but we did see a rise in the level of unpredictability. That makes it difficult to forecast, when some projects you fully expected to bring in either get pushed out or postponed indefinitely. And other initiatives you thought had completely gone away, suddenly become a top priority out of nowhere.
When you consider the military, government and SNG markets we serve, I guess unpredictability is in our DNA to a degree for sure. And that served us very well during this time.
One thing you could count on the last eighteen months or so is the cancellation of most face-to-face, in-person industry conferences and tradeshows across the country and the world. So AvL developed a traveling exhibit, a truck and trailer outfitted with our latest RF gear that we take to our military and commercial customers so they can see firsthand demonstrations of these solutions up close and in person, not over a zoom call.
The response has been phenomenal, even stronger than we expected when we first took the traveling demonstration vehicle out on the road. That’s not surprising, since I think most people are ready to get back to events and have personal interaction with colleagues and customers.
We’re certainly seeing that here at the Satellite 2021 conference. It’s been great seeing customers, shaking hands and discussing face-to-face their challenges and successes.
Satellite Evolution: When you consider all that’s riding on your AvL solutions, it must bring a sense of pride to you and the team when you see the difference your antennas are making in military operations and in peoples’ lives. What’s that like for you and AvL to see the impact you’re having?
Dredge: It’s really hard to find the right words. I get very emotional when I think about all that’s happening in regions around the world, especially recently in Afghanistan and the heartbreaking scenes there.
We have so many systems deployed in that part of the world. That’s why we’re in business to help these teams communicate and connect when it really matters most. It’s what drives us day after day to make sure we’re doing everything we can to innovate the very best terminal solutions we possibly can.
And that’s a big reason why we’re expanding our leadership team, adding three new executives, two with a strong military background and a third who’s a leading flat panel antenna designer.
Todd Brown and Dan Nichols, who were announced this week as Director of Business Development and Strategy and Director of Corporate Accounts respectively, were big military users of our terminal and antenna products in the field. They knew our products inside and out long before they joined the AvL team. We of course will continue to intensely collaborate with our defense and military markets that have played an integral role in steering antenna designs with invaluable insight and input.
But having their military experience and expertise on staff just makes us even better at anticipating and designing to the military’s latest requirements.
Jongsoo Kim, who also recently joined the AvL team as Senior SatCom Systems Engineer, is a phenomenal flat panel antenna designer who previously worked at Intelsat and MTN. And while there will long be a big market for parabolic antennas, Kim will enable AvL to further our designs in electronically steered flat panel antennas and build on the significant momentum we have in this area of development.