Usman Bajwa, CEO, Paksat

Pakistan’s national satellite, Paksat, will play a major role in a program intended to bring the benefits of satellite technology to the population. CEO Usman Bajwa discusses the challenges ahead. 

VIA SATELLITE: What the significance of the Paksat-1R satellite?

Bajwa: That satellite will replace the existing satellite, Paksat-1 (leased from Intelsat General). We are targeting launch in August 2011. It is being developed with CGWIC in China and Thales Alenia Space. Paksat-1R will have a C- and Ku-band payload. We will have 18 Ku-band and 16 C-band transponder equivalent capacity. The satellite has been specifically designed to offer broadcasting, DTH, backhaul services, Internet trunking and data services within the region. We will be covering South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe in C-band, and with Ku-band, we will be covering South Asia and the Middle East. 

VIA SATELLITE: How much demand do you see for the capacity?

Bajwa: We are seeing strong demand for the satellite capacity on Paksat-1R. We might be struggling in terms of meeting the demand for C-band capacity. We have recently launched pre-launch bookings for this capacity and the response has been tremendous. We do see our C-band capacity running out pretty quick. We are already struggling to meet the demand on the C-band side.

In terms of the demand for Ku-band capacity, a lot will depend on the DTH projects which are scheduled to launch soon. There has been a lot of talk about DTH in Pakistan for the last four to five years and a lot of promises about services launching, with as yet, nothing to materialize. Licenses have been issued to DTH operators but they have not been able to launch their services as yet. We however see a renewed interest in launching DTH, among major players in the market, and we see that as a healthy sign that DTH will eventually take-off in Pakistan, and that is a significant opportunity for our Ku-band payloads. We are working hard with the licensed operators so we can start to see this capacity being used for broadcasting. 

VIA SATELLITE: Are you looking for more satellites beyond Paksat-1R?

Bajwa: Paksat-1R is going to be the first in a series of such satellites that we are planning to launch. I would not want to put a specific figure on the number of satellites we might launch, but it could be three or more. 

VIA SATELLITE: When will you announce details about follow-up satellites?

Bajwa: Plans are already underway for other satellites. We are now firming up plans for these. I would say you are likely to hear some announcements from us in this regards once Paksat-1R has been launched next year. 

VIA SATELLITE: How much capacity do you expect to bring to market?

Bajwa: It is difficult to put a figure on just how much new capacity we will look to bring to the market over the next few years. What I can say is that even with all this new capacity, as well as other operators bringing in new capacity, we don’t see an over-supply of capacity into the market. The demand we are seeing, particularly from countries such as Afghanistan, is particularly strong.

VIA SATELLITE: Would you consider developing a Ka-band satellite?

Bajwa: We are keeping a very close eye on the development of Ka-band, specifically in our region. We are seeing satellites being launched with a Ka-band payload. We are looking at their performance, but you have to remember in South Asia and the Indian sub-continent, we have significant amounts of rain and heavy monsoons, so we do have that particular aspect when looking at the performance of the system. But there is a market there, so we might look to have a Ka-band payload on one of these future satellites. It could definitely be on subsequent payloads. 

VIA SATELLITE: Where can satellite technology and communications provide benefits for Pakistan?

Bajwa: Pakistan is country with 160 million people, mostly living in rural areas. The communications infrastructure has really grown extensively over the last 10 years with over 98 million GSM users and a teledensity of over 60 percent. However, we do still have areas in the westers and northern parts of the country that lack in communication infrastructure where satellites are the only viable means of connectivity. We do see significant demand coming in from these areas.

We have already witnessed a quite significant expansion of GSM coverage in Pakistan in the rural areas. Most of the mobile operators initially focused on penetrating the urban and semi-urban areas. Now, there is a competition to expand their geographical reach across Pakistan and penetrate the population living in rural and remote areas, and that is driving the demands for satellite capacity significantly. Also, the government has a very robust Universal Service access program and is encouraging the spread of connectivity to rural and remote areas. They are providing incentives for the operators that want to go into those areas. That is also helping focus on expanding connectivity in those areas, and once you expand connectivity in those areas, the demand for satellite capacity in those areas will definitely increase.

There is also quite a bit of focus on social services like health education, etc. to these areas through projects like telemedicine, tele-education and telecenters. The government has quite a few such programs in the pipeline, which will also be requiring satellite connectivity. We also see continued growth in the TV broadcasting sector which will fuel demands for capacity. We are anticipating at least two DTH projects being launched in Pakistan over the next two years. That will further trigger demand for Ku-band capacity for the domestic market. 

VIA SATELLITE: Will any of this new capacity used for military operations?

Bajwa: We don’t see the military market as being a significant driver of demand for capacity in our domestic market. The primary driver for capacity will be TV broadcasting, DTH, GSM backhaul market and these Universal Service applications. 

VIA SATELLITE: What role is satellite playing in helping people affected by floods?

Bajwa: Pakistan has indeed experienced the worst flooding ever, displacing millions of people and bringing about 20 percent of land under water. It has severely impacted the social services infrastructure in the affected areas including health education and municipal services. The displaced population is forced to take shelter in make shift tents along roads highways and embankments. Delivery of healthcare and emergency services to these people has been a big challenge. That’s where satellite technology has come to play a very important role. Telemedicine services using our current satellite Paksat-1 are filling the healthcare delivery gap in these areas. A number of remote telemedicine clinics have been established in these areas which have been linked to large hospitals in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi enabling delivery of specialist healthcare services to displaced persons at their doorsteps. A number of mobile telemedicine clinics equipped with Paksat Ku-band satellite connectivity have also been deployed.

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