Asian satellite operators seeking diversification, say raw bandwidth sales not enough

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PARIS — Selling satellite capacity to television broadcasters and broadband network operators is no longer sufficient to support growth, according to several Asia-Pacific satellite operators. 

The increased adoption of high-throughput satellites with large volumes of broadband-optimized capacity mean satellite operators need to add more services to make their products attractive to buyers, several said Sept. 9 at the World Satellite Business Week conference here. 

Such satellites are driving a need for a range of additional services from building data centers to offering quantum encryption, operators said. 

“Just providing connectivity into a country is not going to work unless we bring in applications that can generate economic value,” said Roger Tong, CEO of AsiaSat. 

Hong Kong-based AsiaSat is examining additional applications, Tong said, but with caution. The more involved satellite services business has slimmer profit margins, he said. 

“When we talk about what are the potential strategic future investments for the satellite operator, we need to look at how we can offer the best service that complements our core competencies,” Tong said. “To just jump into any service [means] you are throwing money away.”

Won-sic Hahn, CEO of South Korean operator KT Sat, said his company is studying quantum encryption, since the photons used as “quantum keys” can travel farther through the vacuum of space than they can through fiber, giving satellite operators a potential advantage. 

“Quantum key distribution is kind of the ultimate security,” Hahn said. Customers who want hyper-secure networks could be wooed from terrestrial infrastructure to satellites if operators can offer quantum key distribution from space, he said. 

Hahn said KT Sat is working with its parent company KT Corp. on commercializing quantum key distribution within five years. 

“Maybe this kind of technology could give us another chance to expand our market,” he said. 

APT Satellite has a data center in Hong Kong that it uses to complement its satellite communications business, Huang Baozhong, APT Satellite executive vice president, said. 

Insurance companies, airlines and banks use the center, as do broadcasters to store video content, he said. 

“In the future, we are also trying to expand this business into other countries … to establish teleports and data centers and to provide to the local governments,” Baozhong said. 

Baozhong said APT Satellite has established small operating companies in Malaysia and Indonesia that can work with local service providers on vertically integrated offerings. 

Yau Chyong Lim, chief operating officer of Malaysian satellite operator Measat, said his company is expanding into high-throughput services because its broadcast business revenue is “degrading” while broadband grows.

Lim said Measat wants to support a government program in Malaysia focused on connecting the country’s offline citizens. Most of that program involves terrestrial infrastructure like fiber optic cable, he said, but satellite can support areas that are geographically difficult to reach. 

Measat ordered a new satellite, Measat-3d, in May from Airbus Defence and Space. The satellite has conventional and high-throughput capacity, and is planned for a 2021 launch with a to-be-determined launch provider. 

Lim said Measat recently signed a customer to use the entire Ku-band payload on Measat-3d for the satellite’s lifetime. Measat-3d’s Ka-band payload, with 30 gigabits-per-second of capacity, opens up opportunities in consumer broadband, business and government connectivity, and cellular backhaul, he said. 

One regional satellite operator said providing more than raw bandwidth is something it has done “from day one.” Masood Mahmood, CEO of Yahsat, said the company has always offered so-called managed solutions — a process that can involve designing, building and even operating a network, depending on customer demands. 

“We are going deep into the value chain” for commercial and government customers, Mahmood said. “That’s something that has served us well, but it is an intense investment.”

UAE-based Yahsat is mainly focused on the Middle East, Africa and Brazil, but also has L- and Ka-band coverage over large swaths of Asia. Mahmood said Yahsat hopes to finalize a replacement plan for its L-band satellites, gained through its 2018 acquisition of Thuraya, by the end of this year.