Russia Faces Lengthy Shortage of Satellite Communications

by












  Space News Business

Russia Faces Lengthy Shortage of Satellite Communications

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 17 October 2007
03:55 pm ET





LONDON —


Russia’s domestic satellite-telecommunications market is facing a supply shortage likely to be felt as early as 2008 and to last several years as business and government




demand for C- and Ku-band capacity outpaces the ability of Russia’s satellite operators to keep up, according to Russian industry officials.



They said the supply bottleneck is almost inevitable despite the ongoing expansion plans of Gascom and Russian Satellite Communications Co., both of which are in the middle of multi




year fleet expansions, and the continued presence of non-Russian satellite operators including Eutelsat of Paris, and Intelsat of Bermuda and Washington.



Unlike most nations with established satellite telecommunications markets, Russia appears to be burning its candle at both ends:




sharply rising demand at




one end and, at the other, an in-orbit supply that is actually shrinking as older satellites are retired before newer, longer-lasting spacecraft are made ready.

The situation has some satellite users scrambling to lock in longer-term contracts for satellite capacity.

Konstantin
Lanin, head of the Moscow office of Hughes Network Systems, a U.S.-based supplier of satellite networks for business and government markets, said the continued deregulation of Russia’s satellite market is succeeding in spurring demand for rural education, corporate data networks and the long-term Russian task of extending the telecommunications grid to Russia’s Far East.

In a Sept. 26 address here to the Comsys VSAT 2007 conference, Lanin said Russian authorities have agreed to reclassify satellite voice and data terminals as an “access appliance.” Up to now, very small aperture satellite (VSAT) systems carried the “satellite communications Earth station” label and were subject to more licensing paperwork and much higher annual license fees.

Russia’s VSAT market, estimated at more than 10,000 individual satellite stations, is expected to grow to 100,000 by 2010, Lanin said. A similar growth is occurring in Ukraine and other neighboring countries as governments subsidize the deployment of telecommunications links to rural areas. Lanin showed slides of what he said are the extreme lengths to which




satellite users will go to deploy communications gear: Satellite antennas being helicoptered into wilderness areas and half-track vehicles plowing through the tundra loaded with VSAT gear are not uncommon, he said.



All of this is good news for Russia’s two main satellite-fleet operators, Gascom and RSCC, and for other operators operating in the region, including Eutelsat and Intelsat. Gascom and RSCC have been growing rapidly.



But despite the addition of new satellites, the number of C- and Ku-band transponders devoted to fixed satellite services is expected to shrink from a total of 318 in 2006 – 172 C-band and 146 C-band – to 190 in 2010 before rising to some 320 in 2018, according to Hughes Network Systems forecasts.



Gascom, which currently supplies 15-20 percent of Russia’s satellite capacity, has come to the same conclusion as HNS about the supply-and-demand equation. RSCC provides some 70-75 percent of Russian satellite telecommunications, with other operators taking the remaining market share.

Igor Kot, deputy general director of Moscow-based Gascom, said the growth in demand for satellite communications in Russia will slow only slightly from the 20 percent annual increases seen in the past three years. But




it will nevertheless remain at around 15 percent a year until 2015. The demand growth means that the excess satellite capacity of 2003-2006




likely will be filled in 2007, with shortages starting in 2008 and continuing until around 2013.

Gascom’s
estimate is that there are about 200 transponders over Russia with 36 megahertz equivalent power, down from nearly 250 in 2005, Kot said in a Sept. 5 presentation to the Euroconsult satellite-finance conference in Paris. By 2010, he said, the supply will be back to 250, but there will be demand for 400 transponders.

Gascom
, which is attempting to take market share from RSCC, has three satellites in orbit at two orbital slots, 49 degrees east and 90 degrees east. RSCC has 11 operational spacecraft. Gascom has plans for eight more satellites, to be launched between 2009 and 2015. The company plans to expand both by adding to its current orbital positions and by starting operations at 55 degrees east, 81.75 degrees east and 163.5 degrees east.

The company has a long-term credit facility assembled by ABN Amro Bank and the substantial financial resources of its 80 percent shareholder, natural-gas producer Gazprom.

Gascom’s
two Yamal-300 series satellites planned for 2009 are being built by RSC Energia of Mocow, which owns 16 percent of the company. Payload components are being supplied by TesatSpacecom of Germany, NEC Toshiba of Japan and MacDonald Dettwiler of Canada.

The Yamal-300 series will carry higher-power transponders and are designed to operate for 14 years, compared to 12 years for current Yamal-200 product line.



Kott said Gascom, whose 2006 revenue




of $47.1 million were 44 percent higher than 2005, forecasts that revenue




will increase by 28 percent, to $60.5 million, in 2007.