New Satellite Operators
While the largest fixed satellite services (FSS) operator continue to streamline their operations, a number of new players continue to emerge.
One of the most talked about players in the satellite sector is ProtoStar, an FSS operator targeting the growing DTH markets in Asia. The operator saw its ProtoStar-1 satellite launched in July, and in September, signed an agreement with the Intersputnik International Organization of Space Communications (Intersputnik) of Russia to provide for Ku-band and C-band services from ProtoStar 1 satellite from a position at 98.5 degrees East under the Intersputnik ITU filing. While other operators such as AsiaSat have been concerned with interference issues related to ProtoStar’s orbital location, it appears as though the operator is now ready to target Asia’s DTH markets and lease capacity to a number of DTH players emerging in the region. ProtoStar plans to launch another satellite in early 2009.
Another player to watch in Europe is Avanti Communications, which plans to launch its Hylas satellite in 2009 to provide high-powered BSS and FSS capacity across Europe. Avanti hopes this satellite can mean it can have more of an impact in the DTH and satellite broadband markets across Europe.
In April, Vinasat-1, Vietnam’s first telecommunications satellite, was placed in orbit. The spacecraft will be operated by Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group and provide radio, television and telephone transmission services over Vietnam and the Asia-Pacific region. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. launched Venezuela’s first satellite, Simon Bolivar (Venesat-1), in October. The satellite will be used for government and military communications and give remote areas of Venezuela access to telephone communications, fax, videoconferencing, high-speed Internet, radio, tele-medicine and tele-education.
Some new operators also are working to recover from problems. Rascomstar-QAF awarded a contract in September to Thales Alenia Space for the construction of the Rascom-QAF1R telecommunication satellite. The spacecraft will replace Rascom-QAF1, which was placed in orbit in December 2007 and suffered a helium leak that has reduced the satellite’s expected lifetime.
In August, Al Yah Satellite Communications Co. (Yahsat) secured commitments for $1.2 billion to finance its hybrid satellite communications system. In May, Yahsat said it planned to approach the financial market to raise public-private partnership-style project finance funding for its satellites. Yahsat plans to launch a pair of communications satellites to provide commercial and government services throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Southwest Asia. Yahsat 1A is scheduled for launch in the fourth quarter of 2010, with Yahsat 1B to follow a few months later in the first half of 2011.
With WildBlue and Hughes Network Systems demonstrating that successful business plans could be forged in the satellite broadband arena, 2008 could turn out to be a pivotal year for satellite broadband as it proved its commercial viability, particularly in the U.S. consumer market.
In April, Hughes activated its first HughesNet consumer subscriber for broadband Internet service on its Spaceway 3 satellite. Hughes has more than 400,000 residential/SME broadband customers in the United States although not all of these are based on the Spaceway 3 satellite. With WildBlue also performing well and looking to expand its capacity, the U.S. market should continue to lead the way in the satellite broadband arena.
One player looking to capitalize on this market is ViaSat, which in January announced that it had signed a deal with Space Systems/Loral to build the ViaSat-1 satellite, which is planned as the world’s highest capacity broadband satellite. The satellite is scheduled for launch in 2011. Tom Moore, ViaSat’s senior vice president is bullish about the prospects for ViaSat-1. "When you total the capacity of all the other broadband satellites serving the United States — WildBlue-1, Anik F2, the Spaceway satellite — being used for broadband plus all the Ku- and C-band satellites, they add up to less than the capacity of ViaSat 1," he says. "... In the United States, there is a general belief that there are 15 million to 20 million homes with no other Internet alternatives other than dial-up or satellite broadband. At the end of this year, HughesNet and WildBlue together will have roughly 1 million broadband subscribers. WildBlue is selling out of their current capacity for Anik F1 and Anik F2 and as Hughes just added Spaceway 3, we feel it will fill up that capacity successfully in the next year or two. However, they still only have a small portion — about roughly 5 or 10 percent — of the market that is potentially out there."
In partnership with ViaSat, Eutelsat commissioned its first dedicated Ka-band satellite, Ka-Sat, as the fixed satellite services operator looked to expand its reach in the broadband space. "I think we are the only ones in Europe to really assert that this step is a revolution requiring an entirely new approach," says Giuliano Berretta, Eutelsat’s CEO. "What we have done is to commit to a satellite that will completely change the concept of satellite broadband, put satellites in a new league in mainstream consumer services and offer a solution to resolving the digital divide."
SES also did not stay still in this area. While so far it has not commissioned a dedicated Ka-band satellite, European subsidiary, SES Astra signed a slew of deals for its Astra2Connect satellite broadband service. In August, SES Astra also announced that it had created a new company bundling its broadband activities. The new company, Astra Broadband Services, is a 100 percent owned subsidiary that will further promote and enhance SES Astra’s portfolio of products serving the market for satellite-based broadband services. A main focus of the new company is the further development and roll-out of Astra2Connect, its two-way high-speed Internet service launched in April 2007 across several European markets.
"What we have done is to commit to a satellite that will completely change the concept of satellite broadband, put satellites in a new league in mainstream consumer services and offer a solution to resolving the digital divide."
— Berretta, Eutelsat
A new entrant, O3b Networks, intends to build a 16-satellite constellation to provide satellite broadband service to a market it estimates to be nearly 3 billion customers in developing markets. O3b, which has backing from Google, among others, plans to provide high-speed Internet through a trunking and backhaul pipeline. "It is a pretty cool system, however, there is really no new technology. It uses the best existing technologies in a way they have not been used before," says Greg Wyler, O3b’s CEO.