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New AsiaSat CCO Poised to Revitalize the Business

By Kendall Russell | June 2, 2017
Barrie Woolston, AsiaSat's Chief Commercial Officer (CCO). Photo: AsiaSat.

Barrie Woolston, AsiaSat’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO). Photo: AsiaSat.

With a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) this financial year, AsiaSat has effectively entered into a period of transition as the business re-orients itself to focus again on growth. In an interview with Via Satellite, Barrie Woolston, who joined the company as CCO in February, said AsiaSat will look to expand into new regions and market verticals to supplement its legacy broadcast business.

Challengers such as Over-the-Top (OTT) content providers have begun to encroach on territory AsiaSat has historically dominated. Moreover, some talking heads in the industry have speculated a slowdown in the sector, particularly on the pay-TV side. But Woolston is confident that demand for broadcast services will remain strong across the continent, and believes AsiaSat can take advantage of its established partnerships and assets to dig deeper into regions that are quickly developing their economic and technological capabilities.

“We see a healthy and robust broadcast market continuing. Yes, it’s challenging; yes, broadcasters are coming under increasing competition from other distribution devices — but the transition from Standard Definition (SD) to High Definition (HD) is still in its infancy in Asia. We don’t see the broadcast market declining by any stretch of the imagination,” Woolston said. “Do we see significant growth in the next two to three years? No, but it’s an area we’re keeping focus on.”

Specifically, Woolston sees India and Myanmar as two major opportunities due to their massive population. “India continues to be a market that is high growth, and it’s one of those areas where we see a continuing demand for capacity both from a TV perspective and also from a data broadband perspective,” he said.

Meanwhile, as Helen Jameson previously reported for Via Satellite, mobile operators have run into some significant barriers to growth in Myanmar, as the country’s neglected infrastructure makes it difficult and expensive to install new cellular towers. This leaves the door open for satellite operators to fill those gaps in connectivity as Myanmar’s economy ramps up.

“Myanmar is a country coming out of its own political challenges over recent years, and we see it as a market that will grow and develop over time,” Woolston said. “We are partnering with some companies in that country to help develop that market both on the broadcast side and also in the data space.”

As far as competition with mobile operators is concerned, Woolston said he prefers a conciliatory approach rather than a more antagonistic one. “I’ve always lived my career by building relationships and working with people. Working against a strong market force like mobile operators I think would be inappropriate. I see our growth opportunity in working alongside mobile operators to help supplement their networks,” he said.

Woolston also vaguely hinted that AsiaSat has included mobile broadband in its thought process for future satellite designs, stating that the company’s next steps will be “innovative in terms of what we believe the role of the operator would be in a 5G landscape.”

The company plans to launch its next satellite, AsiaSat 9, in the fourth quarter of this year to replace the Ku- and C-band payloads currently active on AsiaSat 4. After that, Woolston said AsiaSat will look to significantly expand its Ka-band capabilities to tackle what he sees as huge opportunities in the mobility sector.

Last November, AsiaSat was granted a patent for aviation satcom technology for use at high altitudes. Woolston said the company has already signed a number of contracts to provide capacity for aeronautical services and will continue to build out that side of the business as it orbits new satellites in the coming years.

“There is a voracious appetite for capacity within the aeronautical market, both now and in the future … because the majority of airlines will have their fleets supplied with Wi-Fi in the years to come,” he said. “Certainly, High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) play a role in that in terms of Ka capacity. So our future fleet of satellites will have significant Ka-band payloads whereby we will utilize the patent application we were granted last year.”

And although AsiaSat has focused exclusively on Geostationary Orbit (GEO) in the past, Woolston said the company is “not close-minded” to the idea of the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) market. He does, however, question the value in providing ubiquitous global connectivity, particularly over the ocean where shipping lanes and aeronautical routes are relatively fixed. “Why not just provide capacity where there is a use for it?” he said. “Having said that, LEO will always have a role to play.”

Overall, Woolston seems to have settled comfortably into his new role at AsiaSat, and is excited to capitalize on the “brighter, broader future” of the broadcast and wider data HTS markets in Asia. “We’re right at the cusp of entering that,” he said. “I think AsiaSat is an untapped jewel in the satellite operator landscape.”