[Satellite News 11-22-11] The SES-4 satellite, recently delivered by manufacturer Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) to the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, will represent a crucial turning point for FSS operator SES when it is launched on an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton Breeze M rocket in late December.
“With SES-4 at launch base, we will soon be ready to provide enhanced services to customers on four continents," SES CTO Martin Halliwell said in a Nov. 21 statement.
Upon arriving in orbit, SES-4 will be the largest, most powerful satellite in SES’ fleet, with a mission to enhance the operator’s FSS capability and reach to the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The hybrid C- and Ku-band satellite also will replace the NSS-7 satellite operating at 338 degrees East.
The orbital slot is one of the most highly demanded locations for trans-Atlantic traffic serving Africa, Europe and the Americas. SES Chief Commercial Officer Ferdinand Kayser said the location offers incentives for customers. “This orbital location is already a well-established SES neighborhood over Africa and will offer our customers considerable incremental capacity for growth with SES-4. As customers aim to increase the number of services they offer, SES will provide the required state-of-the-art satellite capacity optimally covering all target markets in Africa.”
SES-4 is a 20-kilowatt satellite with 52 C-band and 72 Ku-band transponders. Its C-band beams will serve the eastern hemisphere of Europe and Africa, provide full coverage of the Americas and dedicate a global beam to support mobile and maritime customers. SS/L also designed the spacecraft to include four high-power, regional Ku-band beams that will aim to provide service to Europe, the Middle East, West Africa, North America, and South America with extensive channel switching capability between C- and Ku-band transponders.
The launch of the new satellite comes at an opportune time for SES. At the end of September, the group’s total transponder utilization rate was 81 percent, with video services such as HD Plus in Germany contributing robust growth while the operator has to wait for new additions to its fleet. “The number of free-to-air HD program broadcast on the HD Plus platform has increased to 12. More than 1.5 million households now receive HD Plus. While the majority of these households are still in the introductory 12 month free trial phase, the number of paying customers stood at about 250,000 at the end of the quarter, with a conversion rate into paying customers of well over 50 percent,” SES said in its 2011 third-quarter results.
SES also has had a busy year in launching replacement satellite and new capacity, with four SES satellites and YahSat-1A having been launched to date. YahLive, a company co-owned by YahSat and SES, maintains 23 Ku-band transponders. “The ambitious SES investment program will continue with its strong focus on growing geographic market segments,” SES said. “Eight satellites, including SES-4 and SES-5, are scheduled for launch by the end of 2014, providing both replacement and incremental capacity.”
SES-4 will host several key customers that the operator has signed to high-end lease capacities during the last 12 months. In October, Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) signed capacity renewal agreements with SES for nearly seven transponders on four satellites for distribution of news and entertainment programs throughout North America and Europe.
The multi-year, multi-satellite deal provided TBS with the use of five Ku-band transponders aboard SES' AMC-3 satellite, four of which will be used for CNN satellite news gathering (SNG) across the United States and Canada and one which will be used for distribution of CNN Newsource to more than 800 domestic affiliates. “The SNG coverage will seamlessly migrate to the new SES-2 satellite once the spacecraft initiates service in the 87 degrees West orbital slot next month. An additional 8 MHz of capacity is being used to provide voice communications between remote SNG news trucks and CNN in Atlanta,” said SES CEO Romain Bausch.
Turner also is delivering breaking news from North America via CNN Newsource to European affiliates using 9 MHz of Ku-band capacity on SES’ NSS-7 satellite, which is scheduled to transition to the new SES-4 spacecraft once the satellite becomes operational next year. Direct-to-Home (DTH) viewers across the United Kingdom and Germany receive a variety of programming from TBS over Ku-band capacity on two of SES’ Astra satellites located at 19.2 degrees East and 28.2 degrees East.
“SES has the satellites, personnel and expertise that Turner Broadcasting System needs in order to reach audiences around the world. Our long-term distribution partnership with SES is an important component of our global content delivery strategy,” TBS Vice President of International Distribution Technology John Ball said in a statement.
In September, Canal Plus Overseas, the international subsidiary of French pay-TV operator Canal Plus, contracted multiple transponders and signed a long-term agreement for its subsidiary Canal Plus Afrique in order to distribute its pay-TV bouquet of channels to Africa over the SES-4 satellite. Canal Plus’ new contract with SES included the migration of its pay-TV bouquet from NSS-7 to SES-4 without having to switch orbital positions or re-point customer dishes.