PARIS – Satellite fleet operator APT Satellite Holdings of Hong Kong has created a joint venture with mainland Chinese institutions to launch a global mobile broadband satellite network aimed principally at the aeronautical and maritime markets, APT said July 23.
The network, if launched as planned, would catapult APT from its current position as a midsize regional satellite operator into a global player. Other companies with similar global-mobility ambitions include fleet operators ViaSat Inc., Intelsat, SES and Inmarsat.
APT has been among the early adopters in Asia of high-throughput-satellite (HTS) technology, which slices its coverage into dozens or hundreds of small spot beams to permit the reuse of radio spectrum and multiply total throughput capacity.
APT has four satellites in orbit at four orbital slots over Asia. It has two satellites, both with HTS capacity, on order: the Apstar 5C, co-owned with Telesat of Canada and under construction by Space Systems/Loral, to replace the Apstar-5 satellite at 138 degrees east; and the Apstar-6C, under construction by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), which will carry a C-/Ku-Ka-band payload and operate from 134 degrees east.
Apstar-5C and Apstar-6C are both scheduled for launch in early 2018. Apstar has said its total capital expenditure for the two programs is $313.7 million. Included in this is $118.8 million for APT’s 57.47 percent share of Apstar-5C, in partnership with Telesat.
CASC is a majority owner of APT. The regional Shenzhen government on July 25 said it had signed an agreement with CASC and APT to incorporate the new venture within its borders.
CASC produced a graphic showing a system with three satellites, each with multiple spot beams over China and the western Pacific Ocean; Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe; and Latin America.
Called APT Mobile Satcom Ltd., the company is 42.3 percent owned by APT; 23.9 percent by Beijing Shipping, a subsidiary of China Transport Telecommunication Information Center, which manages China’s maritime sector; 14.1 percent by Guo Xin (Shenzhen), a subsidiary of China Guoxin Trading Co. Ltd., an investment vehicle; 14.1 percent by Shenzhen Hao Chuang, a diversified industrial conglomerate; and 5.6 percent by Mr. Pang Lixin, an investor who will represent the management team.
The new venture, capitalized at 1.42 billion Chinese yuan ($214 million), will purchase an initial geostationary-orbit satellite and also arrange the purchase of an orbital position, APT said.
APT did not immediately respond to requests for information on whether the planned system would operate in Ka- or Ku-band.
Like many other satellite fleet operators in Asia, APT in the past couple of years has struggled with stagnating revenue in a region that, from an operator’s viewpoint, is oversupplied with satellite capacity.
Apstar told shareholders in a presentation of its annual results to expect continued pressure on transponder-lease prices in 2016.
The company reported revenue of 1.194 billion Hong Kong dollars ($154 million) for the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 2015, down 4.3 percent from a year earlier. EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, was 75.2 percent of revenue, down from 76.7 percent in 2014 and 78.3 percent in 2013.
The company’s satellites were reported 65.9 percent full as of Dec. 31, but this includes the Apstar-9, which was launched in October 2015. It typically takes a year or more for a new satellite to reach acceptable capacity.
Removing Apstar-9 from the count, APT’s fleet utilization was 74 percent as of Dec. 31, the company said.