New Face Of FSS Sector Continues To Take Shape In 2007
[12-26-07 – Satellite News] From changes of ownership to new operators, the fixed satellite services sector landscape continued to undergo significant changes throughout 2007. Intelsat and SES Global remain the largest operators by a significant margin over their competitors, but other global satellite operators and even regional players continue to position themselves to compete against the two behemoths.
Spain’s Abertis made a strong move into the FSS sector, acquiring a 32 percent stake in Eutelsat in January and a 28 percent stake in Hispasat in October. “We see them as complementary but different companies,” Tobias Martinez, managing director of Abertis Telecom, said in August. “Eutelsat’s market is mainly Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Hispasat has a strong footprint in Spain and Latin America. Provided they retain their personality and the combination of the systems, there are advantages for both players. This combination could also pave the way for investment in ground projects that could enable Hispasat to compete with the industry heavyweights.”
Loral and Canadian firm PSP Investments completed their acquisition of Telesat Canada in October creating the fourth largest global FSS player.
SES Global also continued making moves, completing a deal with GE to divest minority stakes in Satlynx, StarOne and AsiaSat. The deal was hailed by a number of analysts, as SES Global now possesses a cleaner portfolio of assets as well as remove the GE share overhang. Intelsat continued to be shopped around by its private equity owners, and a new owner, BC Partners, is expected to take control of the largest FSS player in early 2008, paying nearly $17 billion.
New Players Emerge
New international players also emerged in 2007. Africa’s Nigcomsat launched its first satellite, Nigcomsat-1, in May. “There will be strong demands for bandwidth [in Africa],” T. Ahmed Rufai, Nigcomsat’s CEO, said in August. “If we are able to sell out the Nigcomsat satellite we will plan immediately for the next one. We would also look at other areas in Africa such as Egypt.” A second African operator, the Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (Rascom), launched its satellite, Rascom-QAF1, in late December.
In the Middle East, Al Yah Satellite Communications Company (Yahsat) unveiled aggressive procurement plans for a dual satellite communications system, signing a deal with EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space worth nearly $1.7 billion. “We believe the capacity of those two satellites will be consumed in the market within a window of 2010 to 2012,” Jassem Al Zaabi, Yahsat’s CEO, said in August. “We are hoping that by the time we launch the first satellite, we will have sold 50 percent of the satellite commercial capacity. It’s our vision to eventually operate more than two satellites, but at this stage we have no confirmed plans.”
This was not the only significant new initiative to emerge in the Middle East. In September, the United Arab Emirates’ Institution for Advanced Science and Technology, a Dubai government organization, revealed plans to launch its DubaiSat-1 spacecraft in 2008. In December, Arabsat announced it had secured $300 million in funding for its expansion plans.
New FSS players also began to emerge in Asia. ProtoStar announced in January that its ProtoStar 1 satellite will be launched in the first half of 2008. The satellite will be equipped with 22 Ku-band and 38 C-band transponders and will provide digital direct-to-home services, high-definition TV and broadband Internet to underserved areas in Asia.
In Latin America, the potential sale of Mexican satellite operator Satmex was put on hold, and the operator decided to try and build its business.
Ultimately, 2007 may well be remembered as the year when the satellite industry managed to safeguard its access to C-band spectrum, a key resource for the industry as a whole. Telecoms players had wanted to gain a global allocation to C-Band spectrum so they could offer next-generation wireless broadband services. Many observers had predicted the telecom players would be successful in gaining access, but a combined effort by the satellite industry resulted in a stunning victory at WRC-07 and ensured the industry’s access to C-band for many years to come.
“We were surprised to prevail against seemingly overwhelming odds, but on reflection, what we lacked in sheer size we more than made up for with support from the user community, from governments and from a coordinated effort by the entire satellite communications community,” David Hartshorn, secretary general of the Global VSAT Forum, said.
With access to C-band secured, many satellite operators can return to the question of whether there will be more consolidation in the industry. Will Eutelsat look to bridge the gap between the top two, or will smaller regional players like Nigcomsat build strong, profitable businesses and use their local knowledge to strong effect? If 2008 is half as interesting as 2007, it promises to be a fascinating year.