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FSS CEOs See Traditional Business Areas Undergoing Transformation

By | March 16, 2011

      As SATELLITE 2011 celebrates its 30th anniversary, the CEOs of the largest FSS operators, Eutelsat, Intelsat, SES and Telesat, discussed the challenges for the sector as they look to stay prosperous and relevant during the next 30 years.
          The issue of launch services was central to the agenda, and was brought into focus by Monday’s announcement of an SES agreement to launch the SES-8 satellite aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2013. SES President and CEO Romain Bausch said the deal was important to bring more diversity to this part of the market. “It is in the interests of everyone to have competition. If successful, they will offer a viable launch alternative. The Falcon 9 vehicle is an interesting development to bring small- and medium-sized satellites into geostationary orbit,” he said during “The Big Four: The Next 30 Years” session.
          Daniel Goldberg, CEO of Telesat, said the satellite sector needed more launch options for smaller satellites. “The struggle with small satellites is the cost per transponder. It costs a disproportionate amount to launch a small satellite on a cost per transponder basis. I applaud the announcement of SES and SpaceX. If the launch costs can get down for the smaller satellites, that will make launching small satellites much more viable. We have struggled with the conventional launch vehicles that are out there” in terms of launching small- to medium-sized satellites, he said.
          Eutelsat CEO Michel de Rosen added, “We have seen the price of launch services go up. It is good to see more competition. This will have a positive impact on the evolution of pricing.” He also issued a call to satellite manufacturers to speed-up the process of building satellites. “We must work on reducing time to space. Can the satellite manufacturing industry re-invent themselves? We want our suppliers to work faster but with the same standards of quality. I don’t think it is an impossible task for satellite manufacturers to reduce the time they build satellites. I think if they have the goal in 10 years time that they can build satellites in two years, they can achieve this.”
          Intelsat’s deal with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) for the servicing of on-orbit satellites via a space-based check-up vehicle added a new element to the discussion. David McGlade, CEO of Intelsat, described the deal as a potential “game changer.” He noted that, “We will refuel satellites that are healthy and extend the life of those satellites. By purchasing fuel to extend the life of our satellites, it will also give us more opportunity to [fully utilize] our assets. We think we have done more than anyone else to leverage our assets. This is a real innovative deal. It really is science fiction and a game changer. I would say we are around three-and-a-half years from this process really starting.”
          Bausch was more cautious on this issue. “Maybe refueling is coming in the future, but it is still science fiction. Maybe one day it is part of our business, but it won’t happen this year or next year.”
          Telesat has been the subject of acquisition talks and continues to evaluate its strategic alternatives, Goldberg said. Eutelsat is not a potential suitor, said de Rosen, as Eutelsat has a history of organic growth rather than growth through acquisition and is not focused on beefing-up its presence in the North American market. “When Dan started the process (of evaluating strategic alternatives) … there was an analyst report which said Eutelsat would be a good fit for Telesat. We denied it. … We don’t need to go to North America. … If we were given Telesat, we would not refuse it, but we don’t wake saying, ‘We must go to
      North America.’”
          With demand for information and video services seemingly insatiable, the role of satellite players across the entire media and communications landscape was discussed. Partnering, rather than competing with terrestrial operators, was a theme of many comments. “I don’t see us as competitive but more complementary (to terrestrial players),” Bausch said. “The main growth will come from our ability to sell the telcos to the right solutions. We need to part of the network of terrestrial operators. If we really succeed to have satellite as part of the total infrastructure, this is the way we can have a lot of opportunities in the future. Ten years from now, the reality of TV will be ultra HD. It requires 16 times the capacity of HD. There will be focus on compression technologies, and the only way to overcome bottlenecks for terrestrial operators will be to use satellite.”
          Goldberg said, “I sometimes feel we are not innovating at the pace of other industries, but our industry has more than remained relevant as the big changes have hit the communications industry.”
          McGlade added, “We have embraced IP through our IntelsatOne network. We have embraced technologies other than satellite. There are things that are done better with fiber. We need to find ways to embrace the broader world.”
          With Western Europe and North America being mature markets for satellite, the operators are looking to regions such as Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America to provide growth in the future. “We are very bullish on the growth we will achieve in the future. A meaningful amount of capacity we are adding is for Latin America, so for sectors like DTH, government, maritime services and the resource sector. We are seeing a lot of demand in those areas,” Goldberg said.
          Bausch, as he has done previously, spoke about the potential in emerging markets. “For the next four to five years, we will add 20 percent capacity to our overall fleet. Around 80 percent to 90 percent of this new capacity will serve emerging markets. We also see really good demand for the O3b capacity under construction.” Bausch, however, did strike a note of caution in terms of one continent. “What is a little bit of a concern is the political situation in some markets in Africa and North Africa. We see some potential investors in the media field hesitating right now because of the political situation.”
          The African market is also one that Intelsat is targeting. “We did a tremendous job of drawing in demand (for capacity in Africa) ahead of launches,” McGlade said. “We have seen other satellite capacity come into the market and then undersea cables come into the market. Fiber prices have seen dramatic falls, but overall, we will see more growth in Africa. Currently, there is a short-term excess of some satellite capacity, but long-term Africa will be a strong market.”

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