Prices Remain Stable in Resurgent Latin American Satellite Market

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WASHINGTON — Latin America’s roller coaster of a market for satellite bandwidth appears to be at or near a peak as regional operators report healthy demand and new capacity nears availability, but the demand uptick has not noticeably forced up prices, industry officials said.

“Why aren’t prices going up? Well, business plans have their limits and if prices get too high some of them will not be started,” said Delores Martos, vice president for Latin America and Caribbean sales at SES, the big Luxembourg-based satellite fleet operator.

Addressing a panel discussion on Latin American satellite demand here March 16 during the Satellite 2011 conference, Martos said the region in recent years has seen satellite launches delayed, which forced up prices for bandwidth and caused operators to direct more capacity to the region.

This ultimately has led in the past to overcapacity, but none of the regional players on the panel foresaw any imminent threat that the new satellites coming into service would force a sharp drop in prices on the order of what happened five years ago.

Pablo Rasore, general manager of Andesat of Chile, a startup operator, said there is still a lack of capacity in the region. “It is not keeping up with demand,” he said.

One official said operators may be reluctant to raise prices too much in the interest of keeping customers who might otherwise leave as new satellites are placed into service in the region. This may explain why prices, even at a time of what appears to be high demand relative to supply, are no more than around $3,500 per megahertz per month, which is equivalent to $1.5 million per year per transponder.

Miguel Angel Redondo, commercial director of Spanish satellite fleet operator Hispasat, said prices reached $2,000 per megahertz per month at the bottom of the market several years ago. He said the biggest factor affecting Latin America’s market in the past year has been the absence of a crisis.

Hugo Miguel, chief operating officer of satellite services provider Tesacom of Argentina, said one reason prices have not crept up as much as might be expected is that telecommunications service providers are now more sophisticated about new technologies they can offer as satellite substitutes. “The vendors are using these new technologies to fight the [satellite] operators” on pricing, he said.

Mauro Wajnberg, marketing director for satellite fleet operator Star One of Brazil, said foreign exchange rates have masked some of the fluctuations in bandwidth prices. He said Star One is concerned that the current market, which Wajnberg agreed is stable, could be upended if all the spacecraft announced for the region in the coming three years are placed into service.

“Latin America is now the region where everybody’s going,” Wajnberg said. “We have to be careful to avoid an oversupply cycle again. I am a bit concerned about this happening again in the next three years.”

One of the prime drivers of demand in the region is its economic growth in the past couple of years, but also playing a role are government-backed programs to extend connectivity to areas beyond the terrestrial grid. Wajnberg said Star One has been awarded a contract by Brazil’s Ministry of Communications to serve 12,000 locations as part of Brazil’s GSAC program to extend Internet access throughout the country.

Miguel said big government-sponsored programs to extend connectivity to thousands of sites, such as those in Brazil and Colombia, have been the most important contributor to growth in the past couple of years.

“Some governments look at the digital divide as a political problem, not a technical one,” Miguel said. “You can raise questions about the process when governments put such a large amount of resources on the table.”