Avanti, SES Bury Hatchet with Ka-band Spectrum Deal


PARIS — Satellite fleet operators SES of Luxembourg and Avanti Communications of London have concluded a Ka-band spectrum agreement under which Avanti has transferred to SES spectrum rights outside Avanti’s current commercial coverage regions valued at $25.1 million, the two companies said.

As part of the agreement, Avanti has leased a steerable Ka-band beam on SES’s Astra 5B satellite, operating at 31.5 degrees east, for the satellite’s remaining life of 13.5 years. The capacity, totaling about 3 gigahertz, can be targeted to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The lease of the Astra 5B capacity will permit Avanti to develop a market it had intended to serve with the Hylas 3 satellite, also known as EDRS-C, which has a Ka-band payload owned by Avanti in addition to a data-relay payload financed by Airbus Defence and Space and the European Space Agency. The satellite is at least a year late and will not be launched before 2017.

In a Sept. 17 statement on its financial results for the year ending June 30, Avanti said it will be marketing the newly acquired Ka-band beam as Hylas 2B, which will enter commercial service for Avanti by December. Astra 5B was launched in March 2014.

SES confirmed on Sept. 18 that it had agreed to lease the Astra 5B beam to Avanti.

“The agreement is part of a wide-ranging frequency coordination agreement with Avanti,” SES said in a statement in response to SpaceNews inquiries. “The payload is approximately 3 gigahertz.” SES said the complicated exchange with Avanti did not entail an SES payment of cash to Avanti. The company declined to be more specific.

The transfer — SES insisted it was not a sale — of spectrum rights to SES accounted for all of Avanti’s reported revenue increase for the year ended June 30, and more. The company reported total revenue of $85.2 million for the year, up 29.9 percent from the previous year’s total of $65.6 million.

The $25.1 million transaction with SES was accounted for as non-recurring revenue “related to the sale of certain spectrum rights, in perpetuity, related to geographic markets in which the group does not seek to operate, in return for indefeasible rights” to the Ka-band payload, Avanti said in its financial report.

The company did not disclose what it will be paying SES for the lease of the Astra 5B Ka-band beam.

Avanti operates three satellites in orbit, including 1 gigahertz of capacity aboard the Artemis satellite the group purchased, for a symbolic amount, from the European Space Agency. Artemis is nearing retirement.

The company has two satellites under construction – one being the Ka-band payload aboard Hylas 3/EDRS-C, and the other the Hylas 4 Ka-band satellite under construction by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, and scheduled for launch in 2017.

Avanti and SES confronted each other in 2012 over competing rights to Ka-band spectrum at 31 and 31.5 degrees east, with both claiming priority based on their placement of satellites, for brief periods of time, at the respective slots before moving them elsewhere — a maneuver that international regulators would like to stop or curb.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) ultimately ruled in Avanti’s favor but asked the governments of Britain and Luxembourg to push the companies into a mutually acceptable compromise. Subsequently, Astra 5B was launched without the certainty that SES’s broadband initiative could make full use of the payload for the satellite’s 15-year life.

In its financial report, Avanti said it had $122.2 million of cash on hand as of June 30 and had invested $1.2 billion into its satellite broadband business.

The company said its fleet was 20-25 percent full as of June 30, up from 10-15 percent a year ago, and that it was selling capacity at an average of $2,000 per megahertz per month.

Whether the $2,000-a-month figure is still holding in Avanti’s African and Middle Eastern markets is unclear. Other satellite operators have reported price declines in recent months.

Avanti said that profitability thresholds of other satellite fleet operators are far higher than at Avanti.

“We can generate three times as many megahertz per ton of satellite than is the case with even the most advanced Ku-band HTS,” Avanti said, referring to high-throughput satellites that employ spot beams to reuse frequency and offer higher bandwidth to a given user location. “Our [customer premises] dishes are one-half the price of Ku-band dishes. Our prices are far lower than Ku-band competitors and we have a more compelling, scalable offer.”

Avanti said that in its Europe, Middle East and Africa coverage area, its addressable market — defined as users with a demonstrated need for broadband who have the ability to pay for it — is more than 1,000 gigabits per second.

The company said that its fleet capacity will total 200 gigabits per second when the two satellites it has on order are in service.