Telkom-2 Orbital ATK
PT Telkom is placing Telkom-2 at the same orbital slot as Intelsat-5, while planning a set of new high throughput satellites. Credit: Orbital ATK

WASHINGTON and JAKARTA, Indonesia — In the midst of a continuing fleet expansion, Indonesia’s state-owned telecommunications company PT Telkom is collocating one of its satellites with an Intelsat satellite over the Asia-Pacific region.

Speaking at the APSAT 2017 conference in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta on May 17, PT Telkom’s Chief Strategy Officer David Bangun said the company is in the early stages of developing two high throughput satellites (HTS) for its constellation, which currently consists of three satellites: Telkom-1, Telkom-2 and Telkom-3S.

Intelsat and PT Telkom, in a joint statement released May 21, said that PT Telkom has moved the 12-year old Telkom-2 C-band satellite to the same orbital slot as Intelsat-5, a 20-year-old C-band satellite at 157 degrees east. The companies said that the move “allows Telkom to efficiently manage its satellite fleet while expanding its use of Intelsat services to complement PT Telkom’s network.”

“Our collaboration with Telkom demonstrates the value we place on working with other satellite operators to optimize the potential of our services in the region,” Intelsat’s vice president of business development Jay Yass, said in a prepared statement. “As our Intelsat EpicNG high throughput satellites are introduced to the Asia region, with Intelsat 33e currently in service and Horizons 3e late next year, collaborations such as this are essential to bringing the best solutions to the region.”

The move signals a positioning by both operators to prepare new services in a region where HTS is exploding in popularity. Last week China Satcom and Indonesian operator Pasifik Satelit Nusantara both announced plans for new high throughput satellites for the Asia-Pacific. Additionally, Paris-based Eutelsat has a high-throughput Ku-band payload on Eutelsat-172b, a triple-payload satellite that also carries traditional C- and Ku-band capacity, launching next week on an Arianespace Ariane 5.

Bangun said that PT Telkom expects all three of its satellites, including the 42-transponder Telkom-3S satellite launched in February, will be “fully occupied in a short time,” and that more satellites are on the drawing board.

“Telkom currently is planning to have at least two HTS satellites in near future,” he said, adding that both satellites are “still in early phase of planning.”

PT Telkom has one satellite under construction today with Space Systems Loral, designated Telkom-4, which will be for fixed satellite services.

Cell phone users specifically are driving the need for HTS capacity, Bangun said. PT Telkom has an estimated 170 million mobile subscribers that are increasingly seeking bandwidth-intensive services.

“Mobile services will be the most optimum solution to deliver broadband services in Indonesia, and backhaul solutions will be the ‘killer application’ for HTS satellites in Indonesia,” he said.

PT Telkom and Intelsat hinted at future collaborative plans by saying they “will also analyze the potential to expand services at 157° East.” This could take the form of a condosat arrangement, where the operators agree to put distinct payloads on a shared satellite platform in space. In February 2015, Intelsat and Azerbaijan’s national satellite operator Azercosmos ordered a condosat from Space Systems Loral to build Intelsat-38 and Azerspace-2 on the same spacecraft bus.

Intelsat also has an Asia-Pacific HTS satellite, Horizons 3e, that the company ordered from Boeing in November 2015. The satellite, to be operated by a joint venture with Japan-based Sky Perfect Jsat, is to complete Intelsat’s global coverage with its EpicNG-branded HTS capacity.

Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, told SpaceNews May 22 that PT Telkom has been a customer of Intelsat since the operator became a commercial entity in 2001, and was a signatory on the creation of Intelsat back in 1964. She said Intelsat 5, manufactured by Hughes and launched in 1997, is expected to continue operating in an inclined orbit until at least 2020. Intelsat has no intention of trying to own Telkom-2, she added.

Bangun estimated that PT Telkom’s current fleet serves less than 10 percent the actual demand for bandwidth in Indonesia. Better transmission technologies will cause today’s latent demand to “increase exponentially,” he said.

Costs for satellite infrastructure, including that needed for cellular backhaul, need to come down as well, he said. Bangun said PT Telkom views fiber as its priority, and conducts 90 percent of the cellular backhaul within Indonesia’s urban areas using terrestrial infrastructure. Installing base transceiver sites (BTS) needed for satellite backhaul costs 50 percent more than fiber, he estimated.

Bangun said Indonesia’s obsession with smartphones has created demand that is stable enough that PT Telkom can use it as a metric for future business plans. That includes trying to figure out a price point for direct-to-home broadband internet — a service commonly cited as having high potential for HTS, but with few successful examples beyond Hughes, ViaSat and Eutelsat.

“Indonesian people, they’re willing to pay for smartphones — that’s why smartphone penetration is like 60 percent in Indonesia,” he said. “They are willing to pay for smartphones, but for the recurring billing, they limit themselves to $5, or $10. So if we deliver gigabits to homes, could the business plan be feasible with $10?”

Caleb Henry is a former SpaceNews staff writer covering satellites, telecom and launch. He previously worked for Via Satellite and NewSpace Global.He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science along with a minor in astronomy from...