The successful May 27 launch of the Thaicom 5 telecommunications satellite will permit owner Shin Satellite Plc of Thailand to move its damaged Thaicom 3 into an orbital position above the Middle East to expand its coverage into new markets, according to Shin officials.
The expansion accompanies what Shin officials say appears to be a bottoming out of the decline in Asian transponder-lease prices as regional satellite television stations proliferate and high-definition television appears on the horizon.
Shin President Nongluck Phinainitisart said the new pockets of demand are among the factors — another is political support for national satellite operators — that makes it unlikely Asian satellite operators will consolidate in the near term.
“Many of these regional operators are part of larger companies that use the satellites for broadcasts, so they will not want to sell satellite operations even if the market is down,” Nongluck said in a May 27 interview at Europe’s Guiana Space Center spaceport here.
Thaicom 5, carrying 14 Ku-band and 25 C-band transponders, was successfully placed into orbit May 27 by an Ariane 5 ECA rocket. The satellite, weighing 2,766 kilograms at launch, will be operated from Shin’s 78.5 degrees east longitude orbital slot — where Thaicom 2 and Thaicom 3 are located now. Thaicom 1A is operating at 120 degrees east.
Thaicom 5 was first built in 1997 for Shin by Alcatel Alenia Space of Cannes, France. Shin subsequently abandoned the project during Thailand’s economic crisis, and Thaicom 5 was placed into storage before being modified for sale to Agrani Satellite of India. Like Shin before it, Agrani abandoned its project in 2004. In mid-2005, Shin repurchased the satellite.
Shin said in its 2005 annual report that it had financed Thaicom 5’s capital costs of about $100 million, including the satellite’s construction and launch, in part with loans from the French export-credit agency, Coface, totaling $71.4 million.
Shin, whose stock is publicly traded on the Thailand Stock Exchange, plans to inaugurate a new orbital slot at 50.5 degrees east longitude by September once the Thaicom 3 satellite is moved there.
Shin officials have said that a mid-2005 analysis of Thaicom 3 — also built by Alcatel Alenia Space and launched in 1997 — concluded that the satellite will be commercially usable through 2008. The satellite was supposed to operate for 15 years but suffered a sudden loss of about half its power-generating ability in February 2003. Shin subsequently received a $33 million insurance settlement.
Nongluck said it is premature to say how long Thaicom 3 will last because it is unclear how much fuel will be needed to move the satellite to its new location.
Shin’s two other conventional telecommunications satellites, Thaicom 1A and Thaicom 2, are nearing the end of their commercial lives, with retirement tentatively set for 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Shin also operates the iPSTAR/Thaicom 4 broadband satellite, launched in August 2005, which is pioneering the introduction of consumer satellite broadband service in Asia using Ku-band frequencies for the consumer links and Ka-band frequencies between the satellite and the gateway Earth stations.
In late May, Shin inaugurated its first iPSTAR/Thaicom 4 gateway Earth station in Beijing, with similar installations to be completed this year in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Shin’s consumer-broadband venture in China is in partnership with China Satellite Communications Corp.
Despite the enormous capacity of iPSTAR, Shin is likely to be back in the market for a satellite in 2007 that would serve as the eventual replacement for Thaicom 1A and Thaicom 2, Nongluck said. “We are keeping our options open, and the market will determine how we proceed,” Nongluck said.
Nongluck said Shin has booked contracts for 20 new television channels on its satellites this year, bringing the total number of television stations on the network to more than 200. In addition to replacing Thaicom 3, Thaicom 5 will be used to inaugurate high-definition television (HDTV) programming in Shin’s coverage area, Nongluck said.
“We introduced Ku-band services in Asia more than a decade ago when everyone said Ku-band signals would suffer rain fade,” Nongluck said. “We are now moving toward HDTV, but we will have to wait awhile until [HDTV consumer terminals] are more readily available.”
Shin reported that sales of satellite transponders and related leases rose by more than 50 percent in the first quarter of this year, to 1.153 billion Thai baht ($30.2 million). Some 56 percent of these revenues were attributable to what Shin calls its “conventional” Thaicom satellites, with the rest coming from the iPSTAR/Thaicom 4 broadband services.
Stripping out the iPSTAR revenues, Shin said its conventional satellite transponder-lease business grew by 11.8 percent over the first quarter of 2005.