HTS in Asia: The Major Players Speak
The role of High Throughput Satellites (HTS) in Asia is still to be determined. While the demand for broadband services based on satellite is there, rainfade and the regulatory environment have presented major challenges. However, as technologies and the satellites improve, the business opportunities increase.
HTS in Asia could be set for a key breakthrough over the next few years. Terry Bleakley, regional vice president for Asia Pacific sales at Intelsat, says there is “an absolute need” for HTS across a number of markets in Asia.
“Major opportunities can be found in the cellular backhaul sector supporting the evolution from 3G to 4G to LTE; in enterprise and government VSAT networks for domestic and international applications; and in mobility from land applications to oil and gas platforms and maritime vessels to aircraft,” he says. “Our focus with Intelsat EpicNG is providing carrier-grade services for mission-critical applications – so not just HTS but also high-performance capacity. This allows users to meet their existing needs as well as expand into new areas and applications. The end users will be using HTS capacity to enable new services we haven’t thought of yet.”
Bleakley believes the opportunity for HTS could be further advanced in Asia than in other areas of the world.
“We see a lot of similarity between Asia Pacific and the other emerging regions. Asia Pacific is probably further along in exploiting the HTS opportunity and will provide a good reference point for the other regions in how to best deploy and use HTS platforms and solutions. All of Asia Pacific has burgeoning demand for broadband. HTS is best suited for complementary coverage and as a demand-balancing overlay to terrestrial infrastructure. The growth opportunity in markets like China and India is expected to constrained by self-imposed regulatory paralysis,” he adds.
Intelsat’s EpicNG program, which is one of the most ambitious in the industry, will be key to monetizing broadband and even broadcast markets in Asia for the operator. Bleakley believes the biggest factor impacting new services in the region, is more regulatory than technology based.
William Wade, AsiaSat’s CEO says HTS is still in its early stages in Asia but thinks this will change over time. “Today we anticipate the introduction of HTS and Ka-band satellites will serve as an extension of existing capability. As we see Ku-band and C-band filling up, the move to Ka-band is a natural step. We are not sure the broadband DTH or retail business model is a good fit for many parts of Asia. The demographics and population distribution in Asia is very different to what you find in Europe and the United States. Certainly, Ka-band and HTS are something that we anticipate more of going forward, but, the model at this point in time, appears to be an extension of the existing FSS model, rather than a new application such as the DTH services we are seeing in the United States,” he says.
Tom Choi, Asia Broadcast Satellite’s CEO and Via Satellite’s Satellite Executive of the Year 2012, previously worked for Hughes on the Spaceway project 15 years ago, giving him valuable experience in terms of the benefits of HTS. However, he questions this technology’s success in developing markets.
“I think a number of the HTS platforms will not be successful in many of the markets in the emerging world because the consumers are not going to subscribe to these services,” Choi says. “In developed markets such as North America and Western Europe, I think there is a great chance for these to be successful. In the emerging nations where the rural population has less than 40 percent electricity penetration in some cases, I am not sure the consumers exist today or over the next 10 years. They may exist in 20 year’s time.”
While Thaicom has long been seen as the HTS pioneer in Asia, the company has had a slow return on investment for its Ipstar project and high throughput satellite. Nevertheless, Paiboon Panuwattanawong, CTO, Thaicom, says there is a future for HTS in Asia.
“I personally do believe that there are markets that HTS can nicely fit and be both profitable and competitive, and can provide a good solution for customers that fit the profile. It took Thaicom several years to make our broadband business profitable, as there were many challenges that we had to overcome in getting the landing rights in the many countries we service. Finding the right partners who could bring the necessary values to the table, along with building trust and confidence has not been easy. There are many things that we have learned along the way that we have been incorporating into our existing systems and that we will apply to our next HTS,” Panuwattanawong says.
Patrick French, senior analyst, NSR, hails Thaicom’s role in bringing HTS to Asia. “Thaicom has led the development of new HTS-based services that many either did not expect or claimed were not possible markets. The cell backhaul deal that Thaicom landed in 2011 with SoftBank in Japan should be remembered as a watershed event for the industry, clearly illustrating the ability of HTS capacity to cost-effectively serve this market segment. Thaicom has also recently announced a new WiMAX backhaul service, again a world’s first for HTS capacity, with Japan’s UQ Communications,” he says.