Neuron’s COO Paul Gudonis on Empowering Customers and Adding Value Across the Entire Satellite Communications Ecosystem

March 14, 2024

In this interview, Neuron’s COO Paul Gudonis discusses his military background and its influence on his career in satcoms. He also emphasizes the importance of empowering customers with data and AI, and opportunities for Neuron to collaborate across the entire satellite ecosystem, including hardware manufacturers, systems integrators, satellite network operators and more.

You’ve got a lot of great experience with “things that move,” from working on cruise ships, to serving time in the British Army, to building a career in the satellite industry. Tell us a bit more about your background, and how it led you to where you are today.

Paul Gudonis: I come from a military family, including a legendary grandmother, who may or may not have been discharged for being drunk and disorderly after WW2 – so I was destined for service. First though, I did a quick stint as a photographer, which is how I found myself on a cruise ship taking photos. This was a thrilling experience, but after multiple voyages, I left to pursue my military dreams. Initially, I was eyeing Commando or Airborne roles in the Artillery, however, a recruiter nudged me towards Signals, where I eventually served with Airborne Forces. Though unplanned, it set the stage for my career in satcoms, thanks to experiences using commercial satcoms in conflict zones like Afghanistan and Iraq. Embracing the unexpected led to rewarding opportunities.

After that, it was simply a case of grasping every opportunity for growth that was put in front of me, while striving for the highest standards of achievement and attitude, a part of the ethos of British Airborne Forces. Often out of my depth in the initial months of a new role, I realized the importance of building relationships and strong teams around me. After 13 years at Inmarsat, where I learnt a huge amount, I spent a few years consulting and working with a video streaming company before the exciting opportunity to join Neuron presented itself (thanks, Rupert and Columbia Capital).

What makes you excited about Neuron? How is it different from other solutions you’ve seen in the market throughout your career?

PG: I love the fact that Neuron is independent and can add value across the entire satellite communications ecosystem. From providing customers with raw metrics and Quality of Experience (QoE) scores based on different user groups and use cases, to using that data and AI to automate the management of their connectivity at an application level, driving passenger experience, operational efficiency, cost savings and much more. These same tools add value to hardware manufacturers, systems integrators, satellite network operators and more. 

This is great because Neuron can partner with a wide range of companies, including providers. On one end, our customers are asking for full visibility and control over their operations. On the other end, providers want to make sure they’re delivering the best service. For customer-centric organizations, the data and automation we’re able to provide is a win-win. Greater transparency leads to more trust and new opportunities to build the future of satellite connectivity together.

Of course, if providers are knowingly selling poor services to their customers, and not meeting agreed SLAs or expectations made in the sales process, their customers will hold them accountable.

The perfect segue! Given that Neuron doesn’t sell bandwidth, one of the big questions we’re often asked is how we work with satellite providers. Can you elaborate on this?

PG: My view is that we start with the end-user and work back through the value chain to provide better visibility into network performance and support the orchestration of hybrid networks (multiple providers of GEO/MEO/LEO/LTE, etc.). Think of that as, from the “Edge” to the Network. The next step is working with the satellite providers to ensure they have the same data on usage at the edge, so they can automate the dynamic allocation of capacity as needed to meet surges in demand, and generally provide a much higher level of customer experience. 

There is a lot of talk about network disruption and LEOs coming to kill the GEO market, however I think this is hype. While the LEO’s will disrupt and drive the acceleration of new models that will benefit the customer, the end-users – the people using connected devices onboard ships and planes – will benefit from well orchestrated connectivity from multiple networks. Something I have first hand experience of in the military – you never rely on one network (or one plan), you always have a back-up and a back-up for your back-up, ideally! 

As COO at a fast-growing startup, we know you wear a lot of hats. What are the biggest opportunities you see right now?

PG: I have a lot of day-to-day operational responsibilities that take up time, things like ISO27001 certification, customer operations, mapping processes and driving efficiencies, adopting new systems, like CRM and CSM, and more – but the biggest things that I’m focused on right now that present the best opportunities (as opposed to hygiene factors for any business) are the new business development areas we are progressing. We are working on some genuinely exciting partnerships with market leaders in aviation, commercial shipping, energy, satellite network operations, and more. Watch this space for announcements in the coming months.

To date, Neuron has been heavily focused on cruise and aviation. Can you talk about how markets like shipping and energy are different? 

PG: The biggest difference is the lack of passengers. Cruise and passenger aviation are mostly focused on driving passenger experience, where Wi-Fi has a significant impact on net promoter scores and return bookings. In shipping, energy and other markets, the use cases are different. This is where Neuron changes the QoE algorithms to provide scores that reflect the use cases in those markets. Instead of focusing on passengers, crew and corporate communications, with file sharing, video streaming and collaboration tools as examples of measured QoE, the more industrial markets will be focused on crew, corporate and safety – and even IoT networks. This means that the way we measure QoE will be different. I expect we’ll see other use cases that require different QoE scoring models within other markets too, such as government.

How do you see the satellite industry evolving over the next decade?

PG: Wow, big question! We’re already seeing consolidation in the market, which is long overdue, with Viasat and Inmarsat coming together, Eutelsat and OneWeb, SES and their collaboration with Starlink, as a few examples. I suspect we will see more of this in the future, combined with the traditional distributors or resellers focusing more on services and additional value adds. Amazon Kuiper coming to market presents another big challenge for traditional business models, but it also presents a huge opportunity for the end-users of satcoms. 

It’s hard not to make comparisons with traditional telco markets – commoditization is a dirty word to some, but it is hard to ignore the obvious commoditization of connectivity. I suspect that in years to come many will not even know what network they are on as Software-Defined everything means customers will roam across networks as needed, and the applications become the real area of interest for the end-user. 

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