Transmission From Space
Qatar-based satellite company, Es’hailSat was created in 2010 to meet the rising demand for telecoms and broadcast across the region as the population is expected to increase by as much as 30 percent by 2030. Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, CEO of Es’hailSat tells The Edge that their aim is to provide satellite-based services to what will be a growing population with an increasing demand for communication in the coming years.
Tell us a little about yourself, and where you worked before joining Es’hailSat?
I was assistant secretary general for corporate services, which is more or less equivalent to a chief financial officer’s role, in addition to some other managerial roles before I joined the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQatar). As part of the national satellite committee, which was formed to follow up the satellite manufacturing process and to form the company (Es’hailSat), I was exposed to the satellite industry and accepted to take on the challenge of such a new industry in Qatar.
You launched Es’hail 1 last year. Can you tell us about the customers you are serving?
There are a variety of services and companies that the Es’hail 1 caters to such as TV, radio, trunking, telecoms and network services. This is one of the main advantages of Es’hail 1, in that it offers multi-application services, which will attract a wide and diverse customer base.
Es’hail 1 is already almost completely sold out, with Al Jazeera taking a significant part of the capacity for high-definition versions of their premium sports and news channels. Other types of capacity are also leased out to Qatari stakeholders, but we are open for business to all customers: national and international.
Also, we have a very close working relationship with beIN Sports and have signed long-term contracts with them. Both parties expect this relationship to continue in the very long term.
Looking at the agreement reached with ArabSat before the launch of Es’hail 1, what was the biggest challenge and how has the agreement helped your company?
The signing of a strategic partnership agreement was to promote closer cooperation between the two companies and strengthen the reach and penetration of the 26 degrees East hotspot neighbourhood for TV broadcasting. This agreement allows us to acquire some additional bandwidth that will enable us to operate Es’hail 2, which will be located in spot 26 East. This will ultimately help 26 East be in a better position.
Under the terms of the agreement, Es’hailSat will acquire the rights to 500MHz of premium Ku-band bandwidth at the 26.0 East TV broadcasting hotspot. Es’hailSat’s second satellite, Es’hail 2, will use these frequencies and be designed to provide Direct-to-Home and other telecommunications services from the 26 degrees East hotspot. Furthermore, the arrangement between Es’hailSat and Arabsat will pave the way for enhanced operational flexibility and mutual in-orbit back up between the two satellite fleets.
When will the Es’hail 2 be launched? And what are your expansion plans for the long term?
We recently released request for proposals for our second satellite Es’hail 2, and I expect to place a contract in the summer. As well as procuring the satellite, the launch and the launch insurance ourselves, we will need to build the satellite control centre at our dedicated site north of Doha.
“As well as procuring the satellite, to launch it ourselves we will need to build the satellite control centre at our dedicated site north of Doha”.
The satellite will be ‘flown’ from there by our own staff, and the same facility will also be used to transmit television channels and other traffic to the satellite, again managed by our own staff. This is a key part of our vision: to provide a secure, independent satellite system to meet the needs of Qatari stakeholders and others well into the future.
Es’hail 2 will be another multi-mission satellite. The headline service is a further 24 Ku-band transponders for TV broadcasting with the high level of security that we already provide on Es’hail 1. There are also payloads for government communications, and an amateur satellite payload – the first time the amateur radio community will ever have had a payload dedicated to them on a geostationary satellite – that will enable direct connections from Brazil to India and from Norway to South Africa.
Is the goal to become a profitable business or serve the long-term strategic interests of Qatar?
The Qatar Satellite Company has to go through two phases - to fulfill the strategic objectives of the State of Qatar and secondly, to grow commercially.
Can you talk to us about the direct-to-home market? What is the demand and competition like in the region? Is there room for another player such as Es’hailSat?
We continue to see robust growth both in demand and in supply to fulfill that demand, which is a picture you will find in many parts of the world.
Es’hailSat was formed with the goal of providing independent and high quality services. That is how we will stay competitive - by providing the highest quality of services at the best market price.
Competition is good. There are four companies in the Middle East that own and operate satellites - Es’hailSat, Arabsat, Nilesat and Yahsat. Then there are other satellite operators based elsewhere in the world whose satellites also cover the Middle East including Intelsat in Washington, SES in Luxembourg, Eutelsat in Paris and other smaller ones. It is a competitive picture but that is how it is in every region of the world. No satellite operator ‘owns’ a market by virtue of their geographical location.
“It is a competitive picture, but that is how it is in every region of the world, no satellite operator ‘owns’ a market by virtue of their geographical location.”
How has fast fibre to home (FFTH) impacted the DTH market for satellite companies?
FFTH is clearly an alternative to satellite broadcast. However, that choice is not open to every consumer in Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and that situation will take a long time to change. Also there is the fundamental advantage of satellite broadcast that can reach the whole audience in the MENA with a huge selection of channels in the latest formats such as HDTV. There are high installation costs for FFTH to reach high customer penetration levels, whereas satellite can address virtually 100 percent of the audience from launch. For the foreseeable future, there is probably a role for FFTH alongside satellite broadcasting.
Tell us about the Ka-band that the Es’hail 1 is able to broadcast on. Is this where you see the potential for growth?
Es’hail 1 provides advanced Ka-band capacity, with up to 300mbps data rate per transponder, allowing for solutions in both broadband and trunking.
With beams covering Qatar and the surrounding area, a MENA beam and a steerable beam that can be located anywhere on the visible earth from the 25.5 East orbital position, a two-way trunking link can quickly be established from such distant locations as London, Moscow, Madagascar, Rio de Janeiro, Kabul, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Reykjavik, and even China.
You mentioned the possibility of an Es’hail 3. Is there a demand for capacity that you are filling in the market?
We will be bringing more capacity on Es’hail 1 online over the coming months and we are procuring Es’hail 2. In parallel, we have already started the early preparatory work on Es’hail 3, talking to customers and other stakeholders to understand their requirements so that we can provide them with what they need. Realistically, I expect to place an order for a third satellite no earlier than 2016.
How do you see Es’hailSat contributing to the future economy of Qatar?
Es’hailSat is here for the long term. We are part of the State of Qatar’s vision to invest in infrastructure.
Today, Qatar is investing heavily to diversify itself. The ICT sector is led by ictQatar as the regulator, and it has established different operators to enable the ICT sector and to promote its agenda, which in the end will meet the objectives of the Qatar Vision 2030. The country’s ICT sector mainly comprises Qatar Satellite (Es’hailSat), Qatar National Broadband, as well as the telecom operators.
Five years ago, there was only one operator, but today there are several, which is a testament to Qatar’s desire to open the market and promote diversification of the economy. Diversification is a very important point, and it needs to be considered seriously, and every country needs to have such a backup plan to have resources to run the economy.
Are there plans to deploy satellites to service areas outside of the Middle East?
Initially we have concentrated our attention on our strategic objectives, which are focused on the MENA region. As we continue to build a sustainable company, we are addressing our commercial objectives, which may open opportunities outside of MENA. We continuously look at opportunities both within and outside of MENA in order to make informative decisions for our next investment. It should be noted that our national stakeholders and local companies have already invested internationally and, where feasible, we will endeavour to provide the satellite communications infrastructure they require.