EshailSat: 2015 Could See Eshail 3 and Eshail 4 Commissioned
Es’hailSat has ambitious plans as it looks to become a force on the satellite landscape in the Middle East and beyond. Via Satellite takes a look at how the operator plans to target new verticals as well markets outside of Qatar.
Es’hailSat, the Qatari satellite operator, could commission a Ka-band satellite over the next 12 months. Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, CEO of Es’hailSat, is confident in this timeframe the operator will have a business case for Es’hail 3, and that the process will be approved. In fact, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Es’hail 4 could also be commissioned at the same time.
While the operator does not know the make-up of this Es’hail 3 as of yet, Al Kuwari admits it is unlikely it will be a broadcast satellite.
“There is a demand in Qatar for more satellite capacity, as well as in the region. But, what applications we will look to support with this satellite is still open to question. We could have a completely different business model for this satellite. For example, we could look to have a remote sensing satellite. … The company has the ability to operate a number of different satellites and the Qatari government has granted us a certain flexibility. We have the flexibility to work in Earth observation, remote sensing if there is a need — and I can see there is a need now, as civil aviation has started to talk with us. A number of government departments have started to talk about these applications,” he says.
Al Kuwari also mentions the operator could commission two satellites at the same time, Es’hail 3 and Es’hail 4, as he admits there are likely to be more applications than can be put on one satellite. The new satellites could be Ka-band, or even based on electrical propulsion.
“By the time we have put the business case together, ABS/Eutelsat America will have launched their electric satellites, so we could go down that route. So, we see how that orbit raising has gone. In the future, we could take risks but right now, we are not able too. Es’hail 3 may very well be a Ka-band satellite, but it will depend on the application. It is virtually certain that this will be a high throughput satellite,” Al Kuwari says.
Es’hailSat is one of a new breed of satellite operators that are becoming a major part of the overall satellite scene. As the national satellite operator of Qatar, Es’hailSat has many functions, the main one being improving the life of citizens of Qatar, one of the world’s richest countries. Having satellites and independence in space is key for the operator. The country has also made major news as it will be the first country in the Middle East to host the Soccer World Cup in 2022. The country is working closely with the FIFA Committee right now as it prepares for arguably one of the biggest events in its history. Satellite could undoubtedly play a key role here.
“The FIFA Committee are putting all of their requirements in place. … Those requirements will require satellite connectivity. I don’t expect this to be in terms of broadcast, but I do expect it on the telecoms side, so there will be a need for Ka-band capacity,” says Al Kuwari.
It has not been an easy time for Es’hailSat. It was caught in the crossfire of a dispute between Arabsat and Eutelsat, where it lost four Ku-band transponders, limiting its ability to serve broadcast customers before it launched its Es’hail 1 satellite. It then had to approach Arabsat and gain access to another four C-band transponders. Es’hailSat now operates eight transponders, but these are now pretty full with its anchor clients beIN Sports and Al Jazeera taking up most of this capacity.
“We also know we need further capacity. We have other customers wanting capacity from us. We have also approached Noorsat for capacity, so now we have something to market. We are also looking for extra capacity from Noorsat. We are looking to build 25.5/26 degrees east as a hot spot. Es’hail 2 will bring added capacity. We will use this capacity in the interim and then migrate customers to Es’hail 2,” says Al Kuwari.
Es’hailSat launched its Es’hail 1 satellite in late 2013 but didn’t enter commercial service until Dec. 18 2014. As well as offering broadcast services, the spacecraft also offers voice, Internet, corporate and government services across the Middle East and North Africa region and beyond. Al Kuwari believes the operator’s plans were delayed, but that now, it is back on track.
“Our business plans were not delayed, but there was an impact. We were affected negatively, because we could not meet our customer requirements. So, we were looking for solutions. This is why we approached Noorsat and Arabsat. I think we succeeded in getting the extra capacity we needed. We now have enough capacity for the moment, and the business plan was not put back. We are now working to the original plan and we are starting to think about our Es’hail 3 satellite,” Al Kuwari says.
With its business back on track, and exciting plans that could mean the satellite operator having four satellites sooner rather than later, Es’hailSat is definitely a company to watch over the next few years. While the initial focus is to create a better ICT and broadcast infrastructure in and around Qatar, it also is looking to expand beyond its borders. While its fellow Middle East operator, Yahsat is looking at Brazil and an entrance into Latin America, Es’hailSat has its eyes very much fixed on South East Asia — particularly the broadcast market. Es’hailSat may well look to do an acquisition in this region if an opportunity arises.
“Sometimes a golden opportunity can arise to do an acquisition, and then you need to move fast and do some changes to cope with the markets. There are two or three opportunities that we are following, and hopefully if this were to happen, this would be another business for us. We are new in the market, so we have the possibilities to do partnerships with other operators. But, I think over the last three to four years we have done a lot,” Al Kuwari says. “I think for us to go into South East Asia, we will most likely need a partnership. We have received some requests from big companies/operators to form partnerships with us. They are on the table; we have not said yes or no yet. I think partnership opportunities are there. In terms of a timeline, it could happen in one or two months, but then it might not happen at all. But, we are only really looking at South East Asia. We are not looking anywhere else.”
The Younger Generation Speaks
One of the interesting elements of the Es’hailSat story is the element of national pride involved in it. According to Thani Ali Al Malki, sales engineer at Es’hailSat, it was like a “dream” to become part of the project. He says at the time he applied to the job, there were many people looking to join the company as well, particularly among the younger generation. “I have had a lot of people say how lucky we are to be part of such a project at the beginning. A number of people wanted to join. We are helping to build the satellite industry in Qatar,” he says. “For me, it was a once in a lifetime experience. It was great to be part of a new project. I think what attracted me to the satellite industry was the fact this was the first satellite operator in Qatar. To be pioneers was so exciting.”
Al Malki and others in the company got to spend a great deal of time in the United States, as part of their training. They took part in classes at Stanford University, and met people from Yahsat. Al Malki admits one of the great things about the experience so far is being able to meet people from different backgrounds who also want to shape the future in space.
Ibrahim Abdulla Al-Haj, senior satellite project engineer at Es’hailSat says the ability to help Qatar develop its own overall national vision was a compelling reason to join. He says that there are a lot of young people at universities in Qatar who want to be a part of this ambitious project. However, joining a satellite company, even for the brightest of engineering students can be very difficult.
“I remember the first meeting we went too. Even though people were speaking English, you don’t understand anything. It was all really technical. But, after two years of specific training, I very much understand what they were saying. Those two years in going to the manufacturer, and learning about the satellite; we learnt all about this in two years.”
Al Malki agrees saying that the first couple of months were very difficult in terms of catching up and understanding all the technicalities. “But then we began to understand the whole picture about building the satellite,” he says.
With Es’hail 1 now up and running, and Es’hail 2 likely to launch in late 2016, the Es’hailSat story is very much up and running. One of the questions facing the operator is how many satellites it could ultimately have, and what is the long-term play for the company. Al Kuwari says that before he joined the company, there was tentative strategy that the operator could have six satellites, but he was not really sure what the basis was for that number.
“You always adapt your business strategy from time to time, due to market requirements and situations. Now, when I look at the MENA region, I don’t see any more growth for us in terms of broadcast. But, there could be requirements in the MENA region for us to serve our Qatari customers so this could be in fields like civil aviation, Earth observation, maritime etc. But, if we want to grow our broadcast business in C and Ku-band, we will have to go outside of the Middle East and North Africa,” Al Kuwari says.
The operator wants to dispel rumors that its only reason of being is to serve Qatari customers. “This is not true. Yes, there is priority for these customers, but we are looking to serve other customers as well,” he says. “We would like to change this perception. We are looking to target other customers. I believe some of our competitors have spread the rumor.” VS
by Mark Holmes
Qatar ICT Minister Spells Out Vision For Satellite
Hessa Al-Jaber is the Minister of Communication and Information Technology for Qatar, and also one of the most high profile women in the space industry. She has been a key architect in bringing the benefits of space based communications to Qatar. In this exclusive interview with Via Satellite, she discusses her vision for Qatar, and how the country is looking to develop its ICT infrastructure.
VIA SATELLITE: How do you view the demand for satellite capacity in Qatar?
Al-Jaber: The Qatari economy is growing rapidly, especially with huge events like the FIFA World Cup 2022 on the horizon and, with that, the demand for high-speed Internet and HD and 3-D services is on the rise. This demand is not only driven from the increasing TV and telecom customers in Qatar, but also from the country’s exploration in international economical ventures in various fields such as oil and gas, which require high quality international communications. Furthermore, Es’hailSat is positioned to serve the whole of the Middle East and North Africa region where there is a strong demand for their services. The launch of Qatar’s satellite Es’hail 1 in 2013 was the first step for the country to add the needed capacity to a region that is experiencing a surge in demand for satellite services. Es’hail 1 and the upcoming Es’hail 2 will support the nation’s focus on diversifying its industries as a satellite could provide the country with its own communications and to become part of a highly sought after industry that is continuingly developing.
VIA SATELLITE: In terms of Qatar’s overall ICT infrastructure, how does satellite fit in with communications technologies such as wireless and terrestrial?
Al-Jaber: Qatar has the highest mobile penetration in the region, which led to the development of Qatar’s ICT infrastructure from a better broadband service, broadcast independence, and the use of fiber optic cables, to providing free Wi-Fi services in local parks with ictQatar’s iPark initiative. The investment in building Qatar’s first satellite is an important element to support this infrastructure as it augments and provides resilience to the service networks and supports future expansion opportunities.
VIA SATELLITE: What have been the key learnings from the Es’hailSat project? How will the government help develop the company still further?
Al-Jaber: Launching Es’hail 1 has been a new and exciting journey for Qatar’s ICT industry as it provided the country with broadcasting independence, quality service and wide geographical coverage for video, enterprise and government communications. It provided Es’hailSat with the opportunity of finding out what its customers require and how they can better meet their need.
VIA SATELLITE: What initiatives do you have to help young Qatari engineers join the satellite industry? How are you encouraging young people to join the industry?
Al-Jaber: Es’hailSat offers training programs that nurture the young generations of Qatari engineers. The program started with four engineers who had the chance to complete and graduate from a two-year intensive satellite training program with Es’hailSat 1’s manufacturer Space Systems/Loral (SSL). The engineers worked alongside highly experienced SSL engineers on Es’hailSat and gained knowledge of the field that they brought back to Qatar. Currently Es’hailSat is sponsoring students in a space related under-graduate engineering course at the University of Surrey in the U.K. and there will be further opportunity for training of young Qataris associated with the procurement of Es’hail 2, which is being manufactured in Japan.
VIA SATELLITE: Will Qatar look to develop satellite capabilities in areas such as remote sensing and Earth observation, or will it mainly be in the broadcast arena?
Al-Jaber: Qatar as a whole is a large consumer of Earth observation data both for government and commercial purposes. This includes mapping and the monitoring of weather, construction projects, the environment and security. The implications and options to provide such services embrace a wider community and are under consideration in a number of government entities.