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Es’hailSat’s Al Kuwari on 4K, Future Satellites and Remote Sensing

By Caleb Henry | August 5, 2016
      Es’hailSat Al Kuwari

      Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, president and CEO, Es’hailSat.

      [Via Satellite 08-05-2016] Qatari satellite operator Es’hailSat has been busy preparing for its second satellite, Es’hail 2, as well as the completion of a new, fully owned teleport. The company hopes the new infrastructure will not only cement its role in the Middle East and North African (MENA) market, but also serve as a springboard to become a global satellite operator.

      In an interview with Via Satellite, Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, president and CEO of Es’hailSat, provided an update on the upcoming satellite and teleport, as well as opportunities the company sees with pay-TV, remote sensing and expanding its fleet.

      Via Satellite: Es’hailSat has been busy with preparation for Es’hail 2 and a new teleport. How are these projects going?

      Al Kuwari: Construction of our second satellite, Es’hail 2, is currently on going at the Mitsubishi Electric (MELCO) factory in Japan. The launch date was revised to accommodate changes being made to the spacecraft to improve its reliability and efficiency. We expect Es’hail 2 to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2017.

      The construction of our new teleport is proceeding as planned, and we expect to complete phase one by the fourth quarter of 2016 to support basic services for our customers.

      Via Satellite: beIN chose to broadcast content from UEFA in 4K with Es’hailSat. What is your market expectation for 4K Ultra-HD in the MENA region?

      Al Kuwari: MENA has traditionally been a Standard Definition (SD) Free-to-Air (FTA) TV market, with over a 1,000 FTA channels currently being broadcasted via satellite. The past few years have seen regional broadcasters making the transition from SD to High Definition (HD), driven by consumer demand for compelling HD content that can be viewed on large screen. With the shift to HD, there will also be a shift to pay-TV given the higher cost for HD content compared to SD content. This shift from SD to HD and that, too, into pay-TV will take time, but we are seeing all parts of the chain working well to develop solutions together to move in that direction. Broadcasters such as beIN Sports are responding to the demand by creating new content, and launching multiple HD entertainment and lifestyle channels; and Al Jazeera commencing transmission of Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English and Mubasher in HD.

      4K Ultra-HD content for now will be for event-based content. However, given the higher disposable income for consumers in the region, we believe the progression from SD to 4K in MENA would be faster than other regions. However, it is an evolution, not a revolution and the trend will continue with transition from SD to HDTV, then to 4K over the next five years.

      Via Satellite: Es’hailSat also recently signed an agreement with the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) to jointly develop satellite services, as well as Earth observation satellites. Can you share more about this Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)?

      Al Kuwari: The agreement with Qatar Civil Aviation Authority (QCAA) was for joint development of satellite services, with Es’hailSat providing satellite services to support data gathering and data management by the Meteorological Department under QCAA. The agreement enables Es’hailSat and QCAA to jointly invest in earth observation satellites. The critical aspect to be managed by QCAA is the data management and dissemination of vital information to stakeholders and other relevant organizations. The agreement also enables both parties to provide disaster warning and disaster management services via satellite during emergencies.

      Via Satellite: Could Es’hailSat operate a constellation of Earth observation and/or weather satellites sometime in the future?

      Al Kuwari: We are in the early stages of our discussion with QCAA on the joint development of Earth observation satellite, and it will be premature for us at this point in time to speak about a constellation of Earth observation or weather satellites. We will, however, share our plans for future Earth observation and weather satellites in due time.

      Via Satellite: What are your thoughts beyond Es’hail 2? Are you considering future spacecraft at this point?

      Al Kuwari: Our core market will always be MENA, but our goal since the inception of our company has been to be a global satellite operator. With our first satellite Es’hail 1 and soon to be launched Es’hail 2, we have adequate capacity to support our customer’s current and immediate future requirements. With Es’hail 1 and Es’hail 2, we would also be able to support the requirements in our pipeline in the near future.

      We are in discussions with various parties to explore joint venture and partnership opportunities to expand our reach and coverage to markets that we believe have strong potential for growth. We hope to be in a position to make a decision on future spacecraft towards the end of this year or early next year.

      Via Satellite: Jamming and interference remains a challenge in the MENA region. What is Es’hailSat doing to overcome this?

      Al Kuwari: Our satellites are purpose built with advanced anti-jamming technology to overcome any untoward incidents caused by deliberate jamming or interference. In addition to this, we also work closely with regulators, partners and other satellite operators to monitor and quickly address any potential interference, for mutual benefit.

      The unique anti-jamming feature and our close cooperation with regulators and other operators enable us to provide our customers with peace of mind, independence and security of content they broadcast.

      Via Satellite: There is a lot of change going on in the satellite industry today. In your opinion, what changes are having the most impact on the industry?

      Al Kuwari: From a satellite operator perspective, one of the changes we see having the most impact is disruptive technology such as Internet of Things (IoT) shifting data and media consumption away from traditional mode to IP-based.

      Consumers now demand high-speed data on the move and to stay connected all the time. The challenge for a satellite operator like Es’hailSat is to support the telecom operators in providing high bandwidth for connectivity and backhaul. High Throughput Satellites (HTS) will partly address this need in the coming years.

      The consumption of video is moving from linear TV to connected devices on the move. However, with video broadcasting moving to 4K, satellite will remain the best mode for distribution of 4K video in an efficient and reliable fashion.

      We also believe the cost of ownership of satellites has to come down for us to be able to compete with terrestrial technologies. HTS, electric propulsion for orbit raising and station keeping of satellites, reusable launchers, refueling modules to extend the life of satellites, etc., will help reduce the overall cost of ownership of satellites, which, in turn, will help reduce cost per Mbps for the end customer.

      Satellites are the most reliable way to connect remote parts of the world, and we believe it will remain that way in the future, however, the industry needs to adapt to the changing environment.

      Via Satellite: Where do you anticipate Es’hailSat will be in two years’ time?

      Al Kuwari: Our outlook for the next few years is very positive. The dynamic digital media sector in the MENA is still growing annually by 7 percent. With Es’hail 1 in operation and our second satellite on schedule to be launched in 2017, we are ideally placed to support the continued growth and expansion of satellite communications in MENA by providing premium satellite capacity and teleport services, communications independence and superior quality of service.

      Over the next few years we hope to finalize and conclude the discussions we are currently undertaking with the various partners for new satellite programs and also hope to be active in other growth markets around the globe.