Hessa Al Jaber Secretary general, ictQatar

Eutelsat’s Middle East aspirations were given a shot in the arm thanks to a deal in Qatar. In mid-May, the operator signed a deal with ictQatar (representing the State of Qatar) to invest in and operate a high-capacity satellite that will be launched in 2012 to Eutelsat’s 25.5 degrees East slot.

The deal is a significant one in terms of the Middle East satellite landscape, says Jawad Abbassi, CEO of Arab Advisors. “This development underscores the heightened interest amongst Arab governments to launch state-of-the-art satellites to meet future demand and help spur economic growth. Most of the Arab countries are shareholders in Arabsat (with Saudi Arabia being the largest shareholder), Egypt has Nilesat, [the United Arab Emirates] will launch Yahsat, and now Qatar will have its own as well. This is certainly a positive development and good news for consumers, as capacity increases should result in healthy competition.”

Eutelsat says the satellite is intended to provide both a significantly expanded mission and superior coverage and power across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia to follow-on from Eutelsat’s Eurobird 2 satellite, which is at 25.5 degrees East. In addition to securing Ku-band continuity for Eutelsat and additional Ku-band resources for ictQatar, it will initiate a Ka-band capability opening business opportunities for both parties. This multi-mission architecture will enable both partners to respond to the fastest-growing applications in the Middle East and Africa, including video broadcasting, enterprise communications and government services. The television market will benefit from a base of more than 13 million satellite homes already equipped for DTH reception from this neighborhood.

Hessa Al Jaber, secretary general of ictQatar, told Via Satellite that this is landmark deal for Qatar and that such are the demands for capacity, ictQatar could look to partner with other satellite operators in the future.

VIA SATELLITE: What are the benefits of the Eutelsat deal for ictQatar?

Al Jaber: Eutelsat owns the rights to orbital slot 25.5 degrees East, and this is a critical location for MENA (Middle East and North Africa) broadcasting. Since Qatar does not have the necessary orbital assets and the orbital coverage rights associated with Qatar’s own slots are limited to Qatar only, we thought this was great opportunity to gain independence and control of spacecraft. Moreover, Eutelsat is a motivated partner with aligned mutual interests.

 

VIA SATELLITE: What are Qatar’s demands for satellite capacity and why is this extra capacity needed?

Al Jaber: There is not enough capacity from local satellite providers to meet our needs. Global and regional players operate approximately 40 satellites covering the region, with 13 additional planned launches. But it is expected that transponder supply over MENA would not meet demand starting from 2012, and this demand can only be met by launching additional satellites. Demand in the region is fueled by DTH TV success and the presence of strong regional broadcasters. Moreover, HDTV will increase this demand.

The supply side of satellites is impacted by long and high capital expenditure investment cycles, and supply tends to be bound geographically. The possibility for redeployment of capacity to other regions is very limited. Also, oversupply in the past has led satellite operators to cut back their investment for covering the region, so from the lack in supply and increasing demand there is likely to be a gap here.

 

VIA SATELLITE: What does this deal with Eutelsat mean for your future satellite ventures?

Al Jaber: Eutelsat is providing ictQatar the ability to fulfill a regional gap and addresses the need for secured and guaranteed bandwidth for Qatar enterprises and government and can be a component in Qatar’s international connectivity resilience. The fact we have done this deal with Eutelsat does not mean we are not going to explore relationships with other satellite operators.

 

VIA SATELLITE: Have you been influenced by others in the region in terms of having a progressive strategy toward satellite?

Al Jaber: I don’t think we have been influenced by other countries in the region. When this project first came to ictQatar I started looking at what else was going on in the region, so we were obviously aware of operators like Yahsat and Noorsat. The way I see it is that we are complementing each other.

 

VIA SATELLITE: Is there any part of this capacity which could be used for military space needs?

Al Jaber: No. The capacity will be mainly used for broadcast and communications.

 

VIA SATELLITE: Will this satellite lead to more HD content in Qatar?

Al Jaber: On the Qatari broadcast landscape, we are seeing a move from analog to digital, and this will accelerate over the next couple of years. In reference to Ku-band, current demand is 25 standard-definition channels and five high-definition channels, and the estimated demand is 8.6 transponders.

 

VIA SATELLITE: What role do you see satellite playing in improving broadband and communications services?

Al Jaber: I think the extra capacity that will be available will be used in numerous ways for broadband and communications services. As you know, this satellite will have Ka-band on it, meaning it will be cost-effective for us to provide broadband. There are still large parts of the market which are not connected to terrestrial broadband services. There are around 46 percent of households in the country connected to ADSL. ictQatar is starting a major project where we aim to connect all households to fiber. We will be investing in this and working with the two telecoms operators. The target is by 2015 to have around 85 percent of households connected to fiber of at least 50 Mbps (megabits per second). By 2020, we hope this 85 percent of households will be connected to fiber at 100 Mbps. We see it as very important for Qatar to improve its connectivity to the outside world. We have submarine cables that are connecting Qatar to the outside world, but every three to four months we are seeing a cut in this. So it is important for us to have satellite as a backup. We want to make sure that there is continuous international bandwidth. We see this as a critical role for the satellite to play.

 

VIA SATELLITE: How will satellite work alongside wireless technologies in Qatar?

Al Jaber: We know now that WiMax will not achieve what people thought it would five years ago. I think LTE and other technologies will go on to replace WiMax, but it all goes back to improving connectivity throughout Qatar. There needs to be complementary technologies such as fiber, wireless and satellite, but in rural areas of the country it will be difficult to lay fiber. We already have more than 40 percent of the population connected to fiber, but it is only connected to the cabinet and not the last mile. So one of the challenges we have is to connect fiber to the last mile, and to do this we will have to use a combination of technologies.

 

VIA SATELLITE: What impact do you hope this satellite will have on Qatar?

Al Jaber: We believe the new satellite will help position Qatar as an emerging player in satellite communications. The benefits this satellite will bring to our citizens in terms of communications capacity and broadband cannot be understated. In the next 12 months, however, we will be busy building the new satellite and developing a strategy for optimal usage.

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