Bandwidth-hungry regional satellite operators hunting for options

by

PARIS — Regional satellite operators are searching for faster ways to add more capacity to their networks to meet soaring demand for broadband, according to executives speaking at World Satellite Business Week here.

Saudi Arabia’s Arabsat is in talks to buy Ka-band capacity in the Middle East and Africa from another operator while it waits to expand its own fleet of satellites, vice president and chief strategy officer Abdulhadi Alhassani said on a conference panel of regional operators Sept. 13.

Arabsat operates 10 satellites and has three more in the pipeline, Alhassani said, including the Badr 8 slated to launch in 2023 and Arabsat 7A that it ordered in April.

He said the company plans to order a Ka-band high throughput satellite before the end of the year for a launch in 2025 or 2026 to meet growing demand for data.

“We needed that satellite yesterday,” he added.

South Korea-based KT Sat is also open to opportunities for extra capacity.

KT Sat announced Sept. 12 that it had ordered a satellite from Thales Alenia Space for a launch in late 2024; however, this will replace its aging Koreasat 6 spacecraft and will not provide the expansion capacity it needs in the region.

David Kyungmin Song, KT SAT’s CEO, said its customers are demanding capacity from the operator that it currently does not have.

Speaking to SpaceNews on the conference’s sidelines, he said KT SAT is planning to order a high throughput satellite to meet these needs in South East Asia, but this will take time to finalize.

He declined to give a timeframe for when KT Sat plans to deploy this satellite.

Incoming LEO capacity

KT Sat is talking to SpaceX’s Starlink and others developing low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband constellations to add capacity in Asia.

Starlink has been focused on selling directly to customers since it launched early services around two years ago for the consumer side of its business.

Earlier this year, Starlink introduced services targeted toward larger enterprise customers and is open to partnerships to expand in this market.

Starlink is exploring “the opportunity to work with partners around the globe,” said Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of Starlink commercial sales at SpaceX, said Sept. 13.

“Between now and the end of the year, that’s something that I’m personally trying to drive,” he said, “and figuring out how we can impact more people.”

Remote communications provider Speedcast announced the first deal Sept. 13 to resell Starlink services to enterprise and maritime customers, which would help SpaceX get a foothold in the global energy market.

Half of KT SAT’s revenues currently come from broadband, and Song said the operator plans to integrate low-latency services from LEO and medium Earth orbit (MEO) to diversify its operations.

In January, the South Korean company invested in U.S.-based startup Mangata Networks, which is planning a constellation in MEO and highly elliptical orbit.

KT SAT also has regulatory filings submitted to the International Telecommunications Union last year to develop its own LEO constellation.

Song expects demand from consumers in Asia for LEO services will be limited.

Terrestrial networks pose strong competition in developed countries, including South Korea, Singapore, and Japan. In less developed regions without widespread fiber optical networks, he said pricing LEO services for consumers is a challenge.

However, KT Sat sees strong LEO demand from governments, militaries and business-to-business markets in Asia, such as maritime and aviation.

Hasan Ertok, CEO of Turkish satellite operator Turksat, said his company is also in discussions with LEO operators to add capacity in its markets.

Arabsat is considering LEO partnerships, Alhassani said, but said there are business and technical issues that remain unresolved, including the availability of suitable antennas.

 

This article was updated Sept. 15 to correct Abdulhadi Alhassani’s title at Arabsat