Satellite Business Booming in the Middle East and North Africa

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  Space News Business

Satellite Business Booming in the Middle East and North Africa

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 21 October 2008
08:54 am ET





PARIS — The 13 commercial satellite-fleet operators active in the Middle East and North Africa showed a 73 percent fill rate on their 41 Ku-band satellites in mid-2008 when measured in booked megahertz compared to total megahertz of capacity, according to a mid-2008 survey of capacity taken from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, by the London Satellite Exchange (LSE) and Euroconsult. The satellites were spread over 31 orbital slots.

The Ku-band fill rate jumps to 97 percent if the measure is made in the less-precise count of transponders used versus transponders unused, because some transponders are booked only partially , the survey found.

The survey is the latest confirmation that the region is among the world’s most dynamic, and it explains why operators without satellites in the region want to get in there, and those already there are planning new capacity.

Transponder demand has risen at a rate of 12 percent per year during the last five years, with most of the new capacity in Ku-band. Commercial satellite-lease revenues have grown by 17 percent per year on average since 2003, reaching $752 million in 2007, according to Euroconsult estimates.

Not all operators are sharing the benefits, in part because fill rates are a function of the uses to which satellites are put.

A company focused on satellite television, such as Nilesat of Egypt, is booked solid on its two satellites, both in terms of available megahertz and available transponders. Television broadcasters typically lease entire transponders in multiyear contracts. Nilesat recently ordered a new satellite, to be launched at the company’s 7 degrees west orbital slot in early 2010.

But television and radio broadcasts represented just 42 percent of the uses to which the observed satellites were put when LSE measured demand from Dubai in mid-2008.

A majority of the satellite capacity in the region was devoted to voice and data traffic, whose customers tend to sign shorter-term contracts, often for partial transponders. This gives their fill rates a higher volatility. LSE and Euroconsult said in their survey, “Ku-Band Loading Report: Middle East and North Africa,” that for these applications any snapshot of demand may be less reliable.

Also distorting the figures is the fact that some operators purposely take transponders out of service as they await the arrival of a large customer that has reserved the capacity but not yet taken up residence. Such a transponder would appear as “unused” in the LSE and Euroconsult survey.

Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow, for example, showed a 100 percent fill rate for the transponders on the three satellites it has over the region, but just a 52 percent fill rate when measured in booked versus available megahertz.

“The Russian operator used 81 percent of its capacity for voice and data traffic, which is generally more volatile than broadcasting applications,” LSE and Euroconsult said in the report. “Thus the fill rate measured for the study as of mid-2008 might be underestimated as compared to the average yearly value.”

With 14 satellites carrying more than 475 transponders over the region, Eutelsat of Paris is the region’s biggest player, providing half the bandwidth available in the region. But Eutelsat shows an average fill rate of 72 percent for the 14 satellites it operates in the region.

Among Eutelsat’s satellites, its Atlantic Bird and “W” series satellites, which include voice and data traffic, are less full than the company’s Hot Bird series of direct-broadcast television spacecraft at 13 degrees east longitude, which are full and are Eutelsat’s prime source of revenue.

Eutelsat
, which is in the midst of an unprecedented fleet-expansion program, plans to launch five more satellites with footprints over the Middle East in the next 24 months: Hot Bird 9 and Hot Bird 10, both to operate from 13 degrees east; W2A, to be located at 10 degrees east; W2M, for 16 degrees east; and W3B, for 7 degrees east.

The company with the biggest near-term development plans in the region, after Eutelsat, is the Arabsat consortium of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which has announced plans to launch one satellite per year, on average, for the next four years. Arabsat was reported to have a fill rate of 64 percent in terms of megahertz occupancy, and 89 percent when measured in transponders that are at least partially occupied.

In terms of satellites now in service, the second-largest operator in the Middle East and North Africa is Intelsat of Bermuda and Washington, which has 11 satellites and 144 transponders capable of transmitting to the Middle East.

The Dubai-based measure of occupancy showed Intelsat’s satellites 7i3 percent full on average when measured in megahertz, and 98 percent full when measured in transponders.