What’s Next After Al Yah 3? Yahsat CEO Weighs In
Yahsat is growing its satellite presence around the world. From targeting markets in Africa and Latin America to investing in Thuraya and widening its product portfolio, the company is not standing still. A year on from the significant launch of the Al Yah 3 (AY3) satellite, the company is at a critical inflection point as it looks to take the next step in its growth curve. Via Satellite spoke to Yahsat Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Masood Sharif Mahmood about how Al Yah 3 is shaping up a year on from its launch, and what is next for this ambitious satellite operator.
VIA SATELLITE: A year on from the launch of Al Yah 3, has Yahsat met expectations in terms of the capacity it has sold on the satellite? How much satellite capacity has been sold?
Mahmood: We had a very eventful 2018 starting with the launch of Al Yah 3 and expanding our satellite broadband Ka-band coverage to 19 additional markets in Africa, while also entering the Brazilian market. Furthermore, we entered into a joint venture with Hughes. Our partnership with a global satellite operator will play a major role in enhancing our satellite broadband offering.
Since the launch, we have commenced services in 19 markets including Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Zimbabwe.
In terms of capacity sold, we have successfully concluded distribution agreements with more than 25 local Information and Communication Technologyies (ICT) partners, and eight multi-national Very Small Aperature Terminal (VSAT) operators in Africa, and look forward to expanding our partner base in the year ahead. Furthermore, in Brazil, we already have three live Virtual Network Operator (VNO) customers using a substantial portion of our capacity to deliver value added enterprise solutions to their end customers.
VIA SATELLITE: Where are the market opportunities for the satellite over the next 2-3 years?
Mahmood: Al Yah 3 holds great potential in connecting underserved and unserved communities in Africa and Brazil. Our joint venture with Hughes is a major step in our long-term commitment and ambition to capitalize on the fact that these markets are now turning around, and the growing demand for internet is yet to be served. We will continue to upgrade our technologies, and adapt our business and operating models in order to tap into the full potential of the business.
Yahsat will address a variety of verticals including direct to premise internet access for consumers and enterprises, internet access via Wi-Fi hot spot services, community services via wireless including 2G, 3G and Long Term Evolution (LTE). We will also address the fast growing demand for Ka-band from Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) for backhaul, in addition to serving increasing mobility needs. We are also aware that governments around the region seek to bridge the digital divide, and we believe that Ka-band satellite broadband provides a timely, cost effective solution.
VIA SATELLITE: Have you made much progress in terms of the Brazilian market? What are your aspirations here?
Mahmood: We are witnessing strong demand as we roll out services on AY3across our footprint in Brazil. We anticipate a a rapid growth in our subscriber base across all regions, enabled by our superior distribution channel partners, who have reach and ability to tap into the target segments in both unserved and underserved markets.
We also expect to bolster our wholesale uptake further, with strong interest evident from more VNO prospects as well as from telecom operators for backhaul.
VIA SATELLITE: Are you starting to think already about future satellites to follow on from Al Yah 3?
Mahmood: We are currently focusing on the rollout of Al Yah 3 capacity and finding the best ways to better serve new and existing customers in our core markets. However, we do anticipate saturation in certain regions/markets and of course are assessing alternatives to keep growing, either through leasing of building our own new capacity.
VIA SATELLITE: How do you view the broadband/data opportunity for Yahsat in Latin America and other emerging markets?
Mahmood:The emerging markets that Yahsat operates in have one thing in common — a significant lack of basic access to internet. With this not likely to change in the foreseeable future, the vital role that Yahsat plays in connecting schools, libraries, clinics as well as businesses and consumers, is critical to bridging the digital divide. Otherwise, this would not be addressed through terrestrial connectivity.
With access to connectivity and internet via satellite, businesses are empowered to compete and governments can offer vital services to their citizens, which would otherwise be difficult and costly, if not impossible to provide.
While emerging markets are understandably always challenging, the outlook on emerging markets is now improving, both in Brazil and across Africa, and we are well positioned to capitalize on the resulting opportunity.
VIA SATELLITE: Would you say that Yahsat is undergoing a transformation right now, with the acquisition of Thuraya and the targeting of new markets through Al Yah 3?
Mahmood: The acquisition of Thuraya was a major step for Yahsat, allowing the company to expand into MSS. Similarly, the launch of AY3 and partnership with Hughes for Africa and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets will bring scale and new opportunities for the combined entity. These ventures will require changing our operating model and integrating systems, people, and capabilities across the company. So, to answer the question, we are going through a transformation of sorts, however, in reality we are just navigating and executing on our long term strategy.
VIA SATELLITE: When we last spoke, we touched upon the idea of Yahsat looking at Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. Have you had any more thoughts about Yahsat exploring LEO?
Mahmood: We certainly acknowledge the advances that have taken place and the potential disruption such programs may bring in the longer term. We are closely watching the space and our strategy is to find the right partners over time. Currently, we are focused on building upon our strengths as a leading satellite broadband provider. As and when such capacity comes on board, our intimate knowledge of our markets and operational readiness will mean at the minimum, we will be well positioned across the value chain to become a customer of these constellations and extract value further down the value chain.
VIA SATELLITE: Finally, what are your hopes and aspirations for Yahsat over the next 12 months?
Mahmood: Our joint venture with Hughes and acquisition of Thuraya bring great growth opportunities and we are currently engaged in fulfilling the vision behind these strategic ventures. Over the next 12 months, we intend to ramp up our sales and marketing efforts to grow our customer base in new and existing markets and continue to offer the right services at competitive prices.