While Yahsat has gained a lot of headlines in recent years, it is not the only Ka-band story in the region. Arabsat has also invested in new satellites and has just completed investment in its fifth-generation satellite program. Khalid Balkheyour, CEO, Arabsat, says the company will take a “calculated and targeted approach” towards Ka-band.
“We have already put a Ka-band payload on our just-launched satellite 5C. Our strategic partner, Riyadh-based King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), has leased the full Ka-band payload to support telecommunication, broadband and military applications in Saudi Arabia,” says Balkheyour. “So, 2011 was somehow already been the year of Ka-Band for us, but we do not intend to stop there. We are carefully reviewing the opportunities, be it through direct partnership with major players or service providers, customers, broad market research and competitive offerings. But, all of our next-generation satellites will definitely host Ka-band payloads.”
Although the enthusiasm for Ka-band is spreading, not everyone is rushing headfirst into the new bandwidth. Salah Hamza, CTO, Nilesat, says, “I think there is good opportunity for Ka-band broadband provided that regulators in different countries will authorize it. On the other side, we don’t have plans during 2012 to commission Ka-band satellites.”
The other major driver for satellite capacity in the region is likely to be broadcast, and in particular HD services, as the number of channels begin to increase. However, as a region, there are challenges for widespread HD adoption. French says, “The big question is, can you launch HD into the more generalized FTA market in the Middle East? That gets more challenging. If you are a national broadcaster, you don’t have to look at the business model. You have money already there. What is challenging is commercial HD channels. So, how do you make a commercial model for HD channels given the business model in the Middle East is generally FTA? That is very challenging, but be do think HD in the Middle East will come on.”
Balkheyour says the number of HD channels is on the increase. “The latest figures we have indicate 18 percent growth for the number of HD channels in the MENA region. We lead the way in FTA HD transmission in the region, and we have 90 percent market share of FTA HD transmission. All in all, we now have more than 30 HD channels including premium content such as Abu Dhabi sport channels, Al-Jazeera channels and the newly launched Saudi sport channels as well as other 15 FTA channels,” he says.
Nilesat also expects to see more activity, according to Hamza. “The real growth in HD started in 2011,” he says. “You have pay-TV operations, and on the other side MBC started the first FTA HD channel. Some governments and private TV channels have started also, so the total number of HDTV channels is around 36 and it is expected to increase to more than 55 this year.”
Jawad Abbassi, CEO of research organization Arab Advisors, says the company is seeing “good growth” for HD in the Middle East. “By January 2011, the region already had 24 pay-TV HD channels and 10 FTA HD channels. Arabsat has 22 HD channels and Nilesat had 18 HD channels by the end of 2011. We expect we will see more HD channels coming into the market. Consumer electronics are changing the landscape and many people have HD sets in their homes now. I expect to see double-digit growth in the number of HD channels in 2012.”