Historically, the satellite communication sector in India has faced a dependency on foreign suppliers for antennas, posing challenges related to self-sufficiency and control over critical components. This reliance on external sources can result in logistical complexities, cost implications, including huge drain in Foreign exchange resource of our country for imports, and potential vulnerabilities in the supply chain.
Addressing this underlying issue by establishing itself as a leading indigenous antenna manufacturer, Comsat Systems Pvt. Ltd is working towards achieving self-sufficiency and promoting the use of domestically developed antennas in the competitive landscape of satellite communication. The company seeks to replace imported solutions, fostering India’s more self-reliant and resilient satellite communication industry. Through this, it aims to meet industry needs while aligning with a broader goal of reducing dependency on foreign suppliers and ensuring a sustainable and competitive domestic landscape.
The Brainchild of an Industry Leader
Comsat Systems was founded by John Saripally, a former Engineer with MASEG, ISRO and later as Deputy General Manager at ECIL (Electronics Corporation of India Limited). He later transitioned into entrepreneurship and retired voluntarily in 1991 to spearhead the company as the Managing Director. Alongside John, his spouse also serves as a director, contributing to the company’s leadership. With a background comprising a BA in Mathematics from Andhra University, an AMIE (India) qualification in 1964, and an MBA from Osmania University, John brings a wealth of technical expertise to his professional journey.
Commencing his career in 1965 with the Andhra Pradesh state government’s Public Works Department as a junior engineer, he navigated the early stages of his profession within the government sector. In 1968, his career trajectory took a significant turn when he secured a position through UPSC as a civil servant in the central government as Asst. Executive Engineer in the Ministry of Irrigation and Power at Farraka Barrage project. However, his commitment to advancing satellite communication led him to resign from this post in 1971 and join ISRO in an elevated role.
From 1971 onward, John has joined ISRO and been dedicated to satellite communication, making him the longest-serving engineer in this domain. Given the scarcity of individuals with such extensive experience in this specialized line, this tenure is a point of pride for him.
With an extensive background in satellite communication spanning over 50 years, John’s familiarity with the industry and personal connections facilitated a seamless management transition. In fact, Comsat Systems gained prominence when approached by HCL Comnet and Hughes to develop 3.8- meter antennas, aiming to replace imports from foreign suppliers such as Prodelin or ViaSat. Successfully meeting international specifications, including ITU-580-5, the antennas received approval from NOCC for use in VSATs and stations starting in 1994. This marked a turning point for the company, further propelling it to gradual growth and solidifying its position as a prominent antenna manufacturer in India by 2000.
Coupled with these, Comsat System’s commitment to innovation, stringent testing, and adherence to international standards reflect its dedication to providing high-quality, domestically manufactured antenna systems in the current industry scenario.
Journey of Entrepreneurial Vision and Business Resilience
Comsat System’s journey is a narrative of entrepreneurial vision, technical expertise, and strategic agreement with ISRO for Transfer of Technology’s collaboration. From its establishment in 1991 to emerging as a leading antenna manufacturer by 2000, the company exemplifies resilience, innovation, and a commitment to excellence in satellite communication. With a foundation built on expertise, quality, and strategic partnerships, the company continues to contribute significantly to the domestic satellite communication industry. Moreover, its success is not only rooted in technical prowess but also in effective collaboration.
Leveraging the founder’s industry relationships, the company navigated challenges and earned the trust of key players like HCL Comnet, HFCL and Hughes in the initial years, but later on with all the major players in the industry like ISRO, Defense & Broadcasting sectors. The approval of its antennas for VSATs and Hub stations solidified its position in the market.
In the modern industry landscape, Comsat Systems stands as a testament to the potential for indigenous manufacturing to thrive in a competitive landscape.
By replacing imported antennas with domestically developed and approved solutions, the company met industry needs and contributed to reducing dependency on foreign suppliers.
John’s contribution to the field has led many to view the company as a pioneer in satellite communication.
Comsat’s sustained success is evident through its current order book, which stands at crores. Furthermore, the validation of their antennas in the USA, Germany, and other global locations attests to the company’s technical prowess and unwavering caliber. He spearheads the Comsat Systems at the forefront and significantly propels it towards greater heights of success.
Rising to the Ranks by Overcoming Hindrances
Although empowered by a resilient journey in the satellite communication sector, Comsat has undergone several challenges that hindered its growth. During the initial stages, the company faced a subdued market demand due to the prerequisite of international specifications approval for its products. It invested nearly three to four years in the meticulous manufacturing, testing, and approval processes for its antennas to gain market acceptance. Since 1991, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), specifically the Space Application Center in Ahmedabad, has emerged as the sole entity placing orders on its innovative antenna concepts.
However, the turning point for Comsat Systems occurred in 1994 or 1995 when Indian companies involved in satellite communication embraced Comsat Systems Pvt. Ltd.’s antennas. The company witnessed a significant surge in orders, with thousands of antennas being purchased. The 3.8-meter antenna, approved by HCL Comnet and Hindustan HFCL, gained remarkable traction, with the latter acquiring over 1000 units. In 1998, following the Kargil War, Comsat’s antennas played a pivotal role in the line of control.
Approximately 56 antennas were strategically positioned along the line of sight, and the primary station was established on Delhi Ridge Rd. This project has endured since its inception, spanning more than 25 years, and the end-users continue to express satisfaction with its antennas’ performance.
Trusted Choice for Defense and Military Applications
Comsat Systems Pvt. Ltd. is pioneering in the Indian antenna systems market. Its commitment to quality, innovative solutions, and strategic collaborations have positioned the company as the go- to choice for ISRO, Defense, and various entities involved in satellite communication. Beyond military applications, Comsat’s antennas have impacted remote areas like Assam, where the Hindustan HCL community deployed them for satellite communication in 2002 or 2003.
These antennas still facilitate Internet access, underscoring their enduring reliability. Its antennas extend their reach to Andaman, Nicobar, and Lakshadweep Island. Comsat Systems antennas are operational from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, and from Assam in the Far East to Rajasthan in the West, numbering over 5000 across India. The company has firmly established itself as the country’s primary provider of antenna systems.
Comsat’s key clientele includes ISRO, covering all its constituent units, such as the Space Application Center in Ahmedabad, Hassan Master Control Facility in Hassan, and ISTRAC in Bangalore, NRSA in Hyderabad and Sriharikota other locations for satellite tracking during launch, is another area where its antennas play a crucial role. Defense establishments, recognizing the quality and reliability of its products, have also become significant clients over the years. Additionally, the Signal Intelligence Directorate of Delhi has incorporated Comsat’s antennas in various locations, showcasing their versatility and effectiveness in defense applications.
A Dominant Force in the Indian Market
Presently, Comsat Systems stands as a dominant force in the Indian market, strategically managing its competitive landscape, expanding its international footprint, and maintaining financial stability while actively contributing to significant defense and space-related initiatives. Standing headstrong in the market with strong recognition, it acknowledges ECIL Electronics Corporation of India as its sole competitor within the Indian market, both companies originating from ECIL. The company has a rich history, with its founder working at ECIL for two decades. Currently, ECIL Electronics Corporation of India stands as the only domestic rival.
In a noteworthy development, Comsat’s antennas have gained traction not only domestically but also internationally. A specific company has emerged as a significant buyer, supplying these antennas to Germany, France, Brazil, Vietnam, Singapore, Maldives, Mali, and neighboring South Asian countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. This expansion attests to Comsat’s antenna systems’ widespread acceptance and global reach.
Despite undertaking substantial projects related to the Kargil War and collaborations with ISRO, the company emphasizes its role in supplying earth station antennas and associated electronics. Even on a larger scale, the projects undertaken do not pose an overwhelming financial burden. Comsat Systems Pvt. Ltd. maintains a prudent financial approach, managing operations with its funds and relying on the working capital deposited in Union Bank of India. The annual turnover averages around 30 crores, and the company remains financially self-sufficient, with projects typically not exceeding 20 crores.
Keynote on Embracing the Evolution of Technology
John emphasizes the importance of staying updated with the latest technology trends in antenna manufacturing. The company has successfully transitioned from producing antennas for geostationary orbit satellites to those designed for Low Earth Orbit (Leo) and Medium Earth Orbit (Mio) satellites. This shift represents a mastery of diverse technologies within the antenna manufacturing domain.
Adapting to present technology trends is crucial for the company’s sustained growth. The company has a robust engineering background with a team of approximately 30 engineers, all holding graduate degrees. The engineering team covers a spectrum of disciplines, including mechanical engineering, electronics and telecommunications engineering, electrical engineering, and even civil engineering. This multidisciplinary approach allows the company to address various antenna design and production aspects. To Attain self sufficiency in the RF Design, the company invested crores of rupees on acquiring CST Suite & Abacus software of Dassault Systems and test equipments.
The engineering team’s expertise extends to both traditional and emerging technologies, enabling the company to meet the demands of a dynamic market. The company remains agile as technology evolves, ensuring its products align seamlessly with the latest advancements. The engineers play a pivotal role in this process, contributing their knowledge and skills across diverse engineering disciplines. John underscores the company’s commitment to continuous learning and adaptation to evolving technology trends. The engineering team’s proficiency across multiple disciplines positions the company as a versatile player in the antenna manufacturing industry, capable of delivering cutting-edge solutions consistently.
Promoting and Engaging in the Development of Fresh Talent
In the annual recruitment process at Comsat Systems, the company actively develops fresh talent by onboarding 4 to 5 fresh engineering graduates each year. The company’s commitment to skill enhancement is reflected in its training programs, providing these recruits with the necessary expertise in the Satellite Communication. The training initiatives have borne fruit, with numerous engineers who underwent training at Comsat now contributing to major satellite communication and telecom companies, both domestically and internationally.
The impact of the training program extends beyond the confines of Comsat Systems, as the trained engineers have successfully transitioned to prominent positions in significant industry players. This outcome not only underscores the effectiveness of the training but also contributes to the broader talent pool in the satellite communication and telecommunications field.
As the primary leader, John takes pride in Comsat’s contribution to the skill development landscape. By imparting valuable training to the new engineering graduates, the company plays a role in augmenting the workforce in the satellite communication sector. This commitment aligns with the broader goals of the government’s investment in skill training, showcasing Comsat’s dedication to providing impactful, industry-relevant education.
Essentially, Comsat Systems, under John’s leadership, not only sustains its position as a key player in the satellite communication industry but also actively contributes to the skill development ecosystem. The trained engineers, now dispersed across various renowned companies, serve as living testaments to the company’s commitment to nurturing talent and furthering the capabilities of the broader engineering community.
Token of Advice to Aspirants
Recognized as a pioneer in satellite communication, John is perceived as an inspirational figure by several aspirants and leaders seeking to make a mark in the industry. His philosophy revolves around self-dependence, unwavering commitment, and prudent financial management. Individuals can navigate challenges and succeed in their chosen endeavors by focusing on personal resources and avoiding overreliance on external factors/ borrowing from Financial Institutions.
Judging from the current scenario and industry narrative, he emphasizes the importance of self-reliance and steadfastness in pursuing one’s chosen field. He further believes that individuals should choose a field of genuine interest and satisfaction, holding onto it firmly despite inevitable challenges, especially financial ones. He says the key to success lies in wholeheartedly committing to one’s endeavors and persisting through difficulties until victory is achieved.
He adds, “That is the main secret to success. Whatever you want to do, do it with your heart and see you finally win.” While relying on oneself is paramount, John discourages being dependent on external factors such as politicians, government, or bankers. He cautions against counting on others, including bankers who may withdraw support when least expected. Instead, individuals are advised to rely on their internal resources to the extent possible.
In addition to the above, John strongly emphasizes the importance of prudent financial management. He advises against opting for excessively high loans that might strain the ability to repay. While acknowledging the necessity of loans, John emphasizes the need to carefully assess the borrowing capacity, ensuring that both the inflows and outflows align effectively. Lastly, he encourages individuals to maintain financial control and operate their businesses within the confines of available resources.