Sky Perfect JSAT, challenged by TV business, hedges bets on HAPS, 5G, HTS and smallsats

by

WASHINGTON — Japanese satellite operator Sky Perfect JSAT said it is focusing on a wide range of growth initiatives as fiber optic cable expansion and smartphone video viewing habits make its satellite broadcasting business increasingly difficult. 

JSAT has lost more than half a million satellite television subscribers since 2013, when that business reached 3.83 million subscribers — the highest level in JSAT’s history. 

In an annual report released Aug. 30, JSAT tallied 3.25 million subscribers for its SKY PerfecTV! satellite broadcasting business as of March 31, when its fiscal 2018 concluded. 

JSAT said that while 4K and 8K Ultra-HD broadcasting presents an opportunity to grow revenue, competition from online streaming platforms is “escalating in intensity.” The operator said it sees a growing market in re-transmitting satellite television to fiber optic cable networks, but still expects its subscriber base to shrink in fiscal 2019 by 66,000. 

JSAT reported 101.5 billion yen ($954.5 million) in 2018 revenue from its Media Business division, which accounts for 56.7% of overall revenues. Space Business revenues, which includes broadcast services for other customers, government connectivity, broadband, and other activities, counted for the remaining 43.3% at 73.4 billion yen. 

JSAT said its total revenue for the year was 164 billion yen after subtracting “consolidated eliminations.”

Asia’s high-throughput potential 

The Asia-Pacific region is poised to see a sharp increase in demand for high-throughput satellite capacity, JSAT said. High-throughput satellites use smaller beams, frequency reuse technologies and, increasingly, reprogrammable payloads to link buildings, ships, airplanes and other platforms to the internet. 

Citing figures from Northern Sky Research, JSAT said the Asia-Pacific should go from generating $200 million in revenue industry-wide in its fiscal 2017 to $1 billion in fiscal 2022. By JSAT’s fiscal year 2027, the company expects Asia-Pacific high-throughput satellite revenues to reach $2.5 billion. 

“We will make concerted efforts in the Space Business to seize upon this demand,” JSAT said. 

Last year Arianespace launched JSAT’s first high-throughput satellite, Horizons-3e, on an Ariane 5 rocket. JSAT co-owns the satellite with Intelsat of the U.S. and Luxembourg through a joint venture. 

A second high-throughput satellite, JCSAT-18, is scheduled to launch later this year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. JCSAT-18 shares a spacecraft bus with Kacific-1, a high-throughput payload from Singaporean startup Kacific that will focus on different geographic markets. 

JSAT expects JCSAT-18 will help it grow in the energy sector, among other markets, by connecting wind turbines from Challenergy, a Tokyo startup designing turbines that can survive and even provide power from typhoons. JSAT participated in a $4.5 million capital raise Challenergy completed in March.

JSAT said competition with foreign satellite operators is increasing for connecting ships, planes and other mobile platforms, as well as in cellular backhaul. Several operators are planning new high-throughput satellites for the Asia-Pacific, including Measat in Malaysia, PSN of Indonesia, and California-based Viasat. 

LEO and high-altitude platforms

To support future high-speed 5G networks, JSAT said it has partnered with U.S.-based Elefante Group to study how stratospheric airships can provide high-capacity links without the signal lag inherent with geostationary satellite broadband. 

Elefante Group is developing a high-altitude vehicle called the Stratospheric Platform Station, or STRAPS, with Lockheed Martin. In a January filing to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Elefante Group said its baseline STRAPS model would be able to provide a terabit of capacity up and down over a 15,400 square-kilometer area from an altitude of 20 kilometers. 

JSAT said it is assessing STRAPS deployment in Japan starting in the company’s fiscal year 2023. 

Ventures planning and now deploying large constellations of low-Earth orbit satellites are reshaping the communications landscape, JSAT said, but were not highlighted as an area of investment for communications purposes. 

JSAT made no mention of a 2017 investment in LEO broadband startup LeoSat in its report. Instead, JSAT described remote sensing as the main LEO opportunity it sees. 

JSAT said it has growing demand from “government-type” organizations for imagery from Planet’s constellation of Earth observation satellites. JSAT invested undisclosed amounts in Planet in December, and geospatial analytics firm Orbital Insight in January. 

JSAT said the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has agreed to transfer a 50-kilogram demonstration satellite, SDS-4, to the operator. 

Launched in 2012 as a rideshare on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H2A rocket, SDS-4 carries an automatic identification system payload for ship tracking.

SDS-4 will be JSAT’s first LEO satellite, the company said, joining its fleet of 17 geostationary spacecraft. 

JSAT said it signed a contract with Pasco Corp. in March to add two Japanese ground stations, one in Hokkaido and another in Okinawa, to its network, increasing the number of sites it has to three when combined with its Superbird Ibaraki Network Control Center. 

JSAT said it also won a contract from LEO remote sensing company Axelspace to link the startup’s satellites with its ground stations. The contract marks JSAT’s first win with Norwegian partner KSAT following a strategic alliance the companies struck in 2016.