EchoStar Pondering Further North American Investment

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Satellite fleet operator EchoStar Corp. seeks market opportunity in its existing Ka-band capacity and is even weighing investment in new satellites for certain niche applications as it struggles to carve out a sustainable market in North America, EchoStar officials said.

Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar hopes to benefit from the fact that its larger competitors in the United States — Intelsat, SES and Telesat — view North America as a low-growth market in the coming years and are focusing their attention elsewhere.

“Our difference is a focus on North America,” said Dean A. Olmstead, president of EchoStar Satellite Services, the company’s division assigned to find a market beyond satellite-television provider Dish Network for EchoStar’s satellite capacity. “There’s a difference between a growth rate and an absolute number of transponders,” Olmstead said in an Aug. 9 conference call with investors, suggesting that EchoStar might find a profitable business that SES and Intelsat would view as too small.

EchoStar officials declined to disclose the fill rate on their satellites not leased to Dish Network. In the past the company has conceded that much of its current capacity is unused — both on satellites it owns and on satellites it leases from SES.

Olmstead nonetheless sounded upbeat, saying “entrepreneurial” activity in the satellite industry seemed on the rise again, and that EchoStar “is now thinking about whether we should build new satellites at new [orbital] slots to capture this entrepreneurial activity.”