By Peter J. Brown
Asia has a lot to celebrate. Last year was capped off by the successful mission of Yang Liwei, the first Chinese taikonaut to orbit the Earth in a Shenzhou spacecraft. Among other things, this sets the stage for more Chinese space missions in the not too distant future.
Yet, there is more to be excited about than manned space flight. Last September, for example, SK Telecom Co. of South Korea and Mobile Broadcasting Corp. (MBCO) of Japan proceeded to forge a co-ownership agreement for MBSAT, a broadcast satellite that is designed to beam voice and multimedia content to cell phones and other mobile devices starting in mid-2004.
News in mid-November that China and Thailand have signed a long-awaited frequency coordination agreement that resolves once and for all the dispute involving the Asiasat 4 satellite operated by Hong Kong-based Asia Satellite Telecommunications (Asiasat) and the soon to launch IPStar satellite run by Shin Satellite is exciting, too.
As a whole, satellite industry players in the region seem a bit more upbeat, although still cautious in their pronouncements about the signs of economic stability and growth that they are detecting. The Direct-to-Home (DTH), Internet Protocol (IP) data and mobile broadband sectors are on the top of the list of hot growth prospects, along with universal digital TV (DTV) roll-outs that are just getting underway in Japan and scheduled to be completed by 2010 in China, for example. Still, few people if any are willing to describe themselves as bullish at this point.
"The Asian market is the most complex when it comes to executing sales. It is recovering a bit," says Christopher Baugh, president of Florida-based Northern Sky Research. "Prices are still depressed, and overcapacity will remain an issue for the next 12 to 18 months."
The launch of IPStar next year will have a dramatic impact on the region, adds Baugh. With 30 Gbs of new high-speed capacity, Shin Satellite, a national carrier in Thailand, will have to overcome a big hurdle in the form of a regional distribution strategy for IPStar, which is crafted on a country-by-country basis.
A year ago, Peter Jackson, CEO of Asiasat, described the status of the region. "We are seeing a lot of talk but no real action," says Jackson, although he emphasized that China in particular was starting to ease up on foreign enterprises wanting to do more business there.
Has this situation changed? "We do see something happening in major markets like India and China. India has implemented some deregulations, but at the same time brought in more regulations. An example is its latest issuance on the ownership of media companies," says Jackson.