AsiaSat plays waiting game on next-gen high-throughput satellite
PARIS — Two years ago, AsiaSat intended to order its first dedicated high-throughput satellite. Today, AsiaSat is happy it didn’t, according to chief executive Roger Tong.
“I’m glad that we didn’t jump into AsiaSat-10 two years ago, otherwise I would have a satellite that is not very economical,” Tong said Sept. 9 at the World Satellite Business Week conference here.
AsiaSat has some high-throughput Ka-band capacity on its latest two satellites, AsiaSat-8 and AsiaSat-9. The company’s earlier plans called for a modest-sized dedicated high-throughput satellite covering China in 2020.
High-throughput satellites are mainly used for broadband communications instead of traditional broadcast services.
Tong said satellite manufacturers have steadily reduced the cost of capacity for high-throughput satellites since AsiaSat was first evaluating the market.
“When we did AsiaSat-10, the business case, the average cost we were looking at was about $3.5 million per gigabit” of capacity, Tong said.
Today, that number is less than $2 million per gigabit, he said.
The rapid improvement in high-throughput satellites is part of the reason many operators have held off buying new spacecraft. The risk is that a new satellite, designed for a typical 15-year mission, could be outdated by the time it’s ready to launch or soon after.
Fleet operators ABS of Bermuda and PSN of Indonesia have made similar comments. Former ABS Chief Executive Tom Choi has said he was grateful a lapse in U.S, Export-Import Bank lending forced the company in 2015 to cancel its ABS-8 satellite order with Boeing. PSN Chief Executive Adi Adiwoso said in June that, if given the chance, he would have designed PSN’s most recent satellite with around 10 times as much capacity.
Manufacturers here, several of which have rolled out cheaper, highly digital satellite designs this year, said they are investing heavily in next-generation high-throughput technologies. Tong said AsiaSat, which operates five satellites, is still studying options for future satellites.
“We will not stop investing, but we haven’t determined a timeline because we need to close the business case, and I am not sure what is the bottom price for dollar per gigabit,” he said.