SCIT, a Saudi-based investment venture fund, focuses on investing in highly disruptive deep technologies. It initially targets the Avionics and inflight connectivity sector but plans to broaden its investment portfolio to encompass global connectivity across various sectors, as well as other domains of deep technology. Mr. Saad bin Solib bin Mutlaq Al-Otaibi (member of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Shura Council), and the founder of SBS and Ansab groups as the chairman of the board. In this interview, Mr. Al-Otaibi discussed his insights on investing in the future of global connectivity and outlined the investment directions of the SCIT Group.
The space economy is a catalyst for technological innovation, economic growth, and national development. Nations that invest in space activities can strategically reap the benefits of advancements in technology, improved infrastructure, and enhanced global standing. While we are heading towards a more connected and intelligent world, the evolving role of global connectivity is transformative, influencing various aspects of society, the economy, and technology. Global connectivity is foundational in the realm of digital transformation, enabling seamless communication, data exchange, and access to information across the globe. Connectivity fosters international trade and economic growth by providing businesses with access to global markets. E-commerce, cross-border transactions, and supply chain integration are fueled by robust global connectivity.
In an exclusive interview with Telecom Review, Al-Otaibi expressed his views on SCIT Group's targeted investments and its focus on the domain of global connectivity.
In the rapid evolution of technology, how does SCIT Group position itself strategically to take advantage of emerging trends and stay ahead of technological advancements?
Advanced technologies and emerging trends in telecommunications play a pivotal role in shaping global connectivity. These developments have a profound impact on how people, businesses, and nations communicate and collaborate.
Advancements in satellite technology contribute to global connectivity, especially in remote and underserved areas. High-throughput satellites and low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations provide improved broadband internet access, enabling more people to connect globally. As global connectivity increases, the importance of cybersecurity becomes paramount, resulting in the need for implementing robust security measures, including encryption, threat detection, and secure communication protocols.
SCIT Group aims to invest in building a robust regional high-speed broadband service covering not only the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey but also India. We have commenced our strategic investment in SkyFive in the domain of offering Air-to-Ground (A2G) internet broadband services to the aviation sector, catering to both commercial airlines and business/private jets. We are actively assessing strategic investments in satellite communication, especially given the remarkable advancement in LEO satellites. Launching constellations of such satellites can complement the regional coverage of our A2G service, enabling us to provide solid high-speed, low-latency broadband internet services not only in aviation sectors but also in other sectors like government, military, and maritime, offering connectivity services to rural areas.
Can you explain more about how SCIT Group is creating an innovation ecosystem within the space economy and how it is driving technology advancements that have a wider impact beyond its direct investments?
The space economy has been growing rapidly, driven by advancements in technology, increased private sector involvement, and a growing interest in space exploration and utilization. Governments, private companies, and international collaborations contribute to the development of this economic sector, with the potential for new opportunities and challenges in the future. At SCIT Group, we have been very focused on global connectivity as a pivotal application for our investments, focusing on defined markets and focused sectors. Our investment strategy focuses on acquiring significant shares in startups with significant scalability and growth potential with IPRs in the emerging technologies that serve our group investments’ purpose. We do aim to serve our shareholders' promised financial returns.
We are primely investing in inflight connectivity technologies with an ambition to reach a very competitive and innovative commercial global service to create a global connectivity ecosystem that can serve not only aviation or advanced air mobility sectors, but gradually expand horizontally in other sectors as well. Considering a wider investment outlook, we would like to take the current frontier investments in different domains related to the space sector. Such as communications satellites constellation (especially LEO satellites), remote sensing domains, and satellite launchers that not only have a high return on investment but also contribute to the transformation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s economy into a dynamic and diversified economy. In general, we do look for deep cutting-edge technology investments and mega high-tech investment projects that can contribute to economic growth and competitiveness on a global scale and can bring high shareholders’ financial returns.
Which specific disruptive technologies in the aviation, aerospace, and space communication sectors does SCIT Group consider as key pillars of its investment portfolio? What unique value do these technologies bring to the market?
The aviation sector is witnessing disruptive technologies in communications that are transforming how aircrafts communicate internally and externally. These technologies contribute to improved safety, efficiency, and connectivity. The witnessed advancements in satellite communication technologies are improving connectivity and data transmission capabilities for aircrafts that is foreseen to enhance inflight connectivity, support real-time data transfer, and improve communication between the aircraft and ground systems.
Enabling global connectivity is one of our key investment pillars at SCIT Group that focuses on providing High-Bandwidth Connectivity (HBC) for passengers to enable real-time communication and support the growing demand for connectivity during flights. Our investment in SkyFive and Air-to-Ground technology aims to extend the implementation of 4G/5G technologies on the ground to aviation, providing high-speed, low-latency connectivity for air-to-ground and ground-to-air communication. We also assess other investments and build strategic partnerships with other technologies like low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations to complement our SkyFive solution— especially in the geographies that are hard to cover with A2G technology.
Another investment pillar is our investment in advanced cybersecurity solutions, which are critical for protecting inflight connectivity systems from potential cyber threats. Artificial Intelligence is another pillar that aims to analyze data from aircraft systems to predict and prevent maintenance issues, ensuring that connectivity systems remain operational. This should have an impact on reducing downtime, improving system reliability, and enhancing the overall inflight connectivity experience.
Taking the changing landscape of space-based communication technologies into consideration, how does SCIT Group form strategic alliances to ensure global coverage that is robust and scalable?
Spectrum acquisition and regulations play a crucial role in the evolution of space communications and inflight connectivity. The radio frequency spectrum is a finite and valuable resource that needs to be carefully managed to ensure efficient and interference-free operation of communication systems. Efficient spectrum acquisition and management are fundamental for fostering innovation, enabling new space-based services, and ensuring the continued growth of the space economy.
SCIT Group works to build a solid regional alliance, especially in the Middle East and Africa, with local regulators and local strategic partners, to get the right spectrum acquired for operating non-terrestrial network services seamlessly across borders, supporting global space-based services and applications. We focus on building deep, solid, strategic partnerships with all regulatory bodies in the region to assess the growing demand for inflight connectivity and allocate sufficient spectrum to meet the capacity needs of airlines and passengers.
Additionally, we have a strategic cooperation with Thales, which supplies us with the key strategic equipment needed for our solution. AMS Aero works with us to help us attain the certification required for the different aircraft types that we are strategically targeting. Shortly, we will announce other strategic partnerships in the satellite domain.
How does SCIT Group’s commitment to global connectivity and disruptive technologies contribute towards achieving the milestones outlined in Saudi Vision 2030?
The comprehensive and ambitious Saudi Vision 2030 announced by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, outlined the roadmap for transforming the country's economy and society, aiming to reduce its dependence on oil, diversify its economic base, and position Saudi Arabia as a dynamic and globally competitive nation by the year 2030.
According to PwC, the global space sector is predicted to exceed USD 1 trillion by 2030, reflecting a growth of 186% from 2020’s market size. The growth in the Middle East will be driven by concerted investment between the public sector, global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and the local industry. Specifically, the areas of earth observations, space tourism, satellite communication, space mining, space research and development, space exploration, space debris, and manufacturing will be the key drivers of growth in terms of subsectors— with satellites alone projected to constitute 50% of the growth of the global space sector.
In the Middle East, there is ample opportunity to strengthen the foundations of the emerging space sector and build capabilities and infrastructure to thrive in the future. To do so, there is a need to bridge the gap between the ambitions of the government and emerging private sector players on the one hand, and world-class capabilities in manufacturing, science, and aeronautics on the other— all while involving regional talent and supporting localization agendas. The forecasted growth in the global space sector offers a range of opportunities for Middle-Eastern governments to advance across different strategic areas like economic diversification, R&D superiority (where having a footprint in space will increase market participation and reduce future uncertainties) and military interoperability (that is foreseen to increase military effectiveness and operational advantages and increase geospatial capabilities of governments).
Global connectivity is foundational to a futuristic economy characterized by innovation, collaboration, and inclusivity. As technological advancements continue to shape the world, a well-connected global network contributes to economic resilience, competitiveness, and sustainable development. According to the latest research study by Zion Market Research, the global wireless connectivity market size was valued at around USD 71.60 billion in 2022. The market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.06% and is anticipated to reach USD 219.86 billion by 2030. On the other side, the global satellite connectivity market was valued at USD 11.12 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach USD 22.12 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 7.3% from 2022 to 2031.
Our key investment pillar in SCIT Group is to build our frontier connectivity technology to enable the transformation toward an intelligent, connected world. We aim to transform air travel by providing passengers with internet access, communication services, and entertainment options while in the air at continuously improved speeds and bandwidth through our SkyFive Air-to-Ground technology. We assess strategic investments before launching a constellation of LEO satellites for communication purposes under R&D consortium from regional and global lead institutions to support in expediting critical R&D capabilities in the Middle East and Africa region.
How do you perceive the current evolution of AI? What do you anticipate regarding its impact on the potency of technology?
Artificial intelligence (AI) can transform the productivity and GDP potential of the global economy. Recent developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning (ML) have put us on the cusp of a new automation age that will bring substantial benefits to businesses and economies worldwide. We are transforming towards a more intelligent real-time world where the generative ability to exchange data and make informed decisions through advanced deep learning techniques is pervasive across everything, everywhere, at any time. In our new intelligent world, the aim is to dissolve our current daily routines of waiting, delays, queues, and paperwork— and rather have an instantaneous provision of goods and services available where and when we need them most.
The roles of AI in the space economy and inflight connectivity are dynamic, and ongoing advancements in technology will likely lead to further innovations and applications in these sectors. AI is being utilized to enhance the autonomy of satellites. Autonomous operations include tasks such as orbit adjustments, collision avoidance, and adaptive reconfigurations, allowing satellites to respond to changing conditions without constant human intervention. AI is applied to process and analyze vast amounts of Earth observation data collected by satellites. Machine learning algorithms help in identifying patterns, anomalies, and trends in data related to weather, climate, agriculture, and environmental changes.
Also, AI is used to optimize satellite communication systems. Machine learning algorithms can predict and mitigate signal interference, enhance data transmission efficiency, and dynamically allocate resources for better overall performance. AI is used for predictive maintenance in the aviation industry. Machine learning algorithms analyze data from aircraft sensors to predict equipment failures and recommend maintenance actions. This helps airlines optimize maintenance schedules and reduce downtime. AI algorithms optimize flight routes and planning based on real-time weather data, air traffic conditions, and fuel efficiency considerations. This helps reduce fuel consumption, improve on-time performance, and enhance overall operational efficiency. AI contributes to cockpit automation, providing decision support for pilots. Enhanced autopilot systems, intelligent navigation aids, and predictive analytics assist in navigation, weather avoidance, and fuel optimization. Inflight communication systems benefit from AI, leading to improved voice recognition, natural language processing, and automated responses. This enhances the interaction between crew members and the aircraft's communication systems. AI is utilized to analyze passenger behavior, preferences, and trends. This information can be used by airlines to optimize services, improve customer experience, and tailor offerings based on individual or group patterns.
What milestones from 2023 do you believe had a pivotal impact on SCIT Group's trajectory?
We have managed to successfully to establish our SkyFive Arabia brand in the Middle East following intense engagements about our high broadband inflight connectivity solution across commercial and business aviation sectors. Worth mentioning is our strategic partnership with stc Group, the digital leader in the region, and Saudi Arabia, that has won the 2100 MHz spectrum auction for non-terrestrial networks, which allows the provision of communications services on aircraft and the provision of mobile satellite services (MSS).
The Group’s acquisition of these frequencies is an additional investment that aims to provide innovative mobile communications services that will contribute to the provision of mobile communications services between airspace and Earth— including internet on board aircrafts via A2G technology as well as the provision of mobile satellite services (MSS). We have also celebrated the sign-off of several strategic agreements (aside from the Dubai Airshow 2023), including partnering with a leading FBO in the luxury business jets sector— we will equip its business jet fleet with our innovative solution. We have also signed another agreement with a regional commercial airline where we are preparing to equip its first aircraft. In order to fast-track the rollout of our solution in the region, we have established a strategic agreement with AMS AERO.
What are the primary goals and focus areas for SCIT Group in 2024?
The landscape of inflight connectivity and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) is dynamic, with numerous companies, startups, and industry players actively exploring opportunities and making strategic investments. The success of these investments often depends on technological innovation, regulatory developments, and market demand for these transformative aviation solutions. Airline Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity services are expected to become more widely accessible over the next decade due to increasing demand.
While there is an interesting question that often arises about the provision of onboard broadband access— one that usually centers around cost or, more specifically, the potential for airlines to move towards offering the service as a free-of-charge benefit for all passengers— SCIT Group shares the industry’s general belief that the market will develop in such a way in time.
In 2024, we will continue our investment commitment to SkyFive and we will continue accelerating the roll out of our aviation ground network covering the Middle East and Turkey (expanding shortly in the coming years to Northern Africa and the rest of Africa). We are also preparing to strategically invest in the satellite communications sector, specifically focusing on LEO satellites (we believe that LEO satellite technology is a very complementary solution to our SkyFive A2G technology)— with the goal to enrich our regional and global service coverage. We are preparing to establish another business unit for eVTOL communications as well as launch our focused R&D ecosystem, in partnership with leading regional and global research institutions, to act as our extended technology labs and advisory unit.