Thaicom reports record profit on television growth, plans successor to IPStar broadband satellite
PARIS — Satellite fleet operator Thaicom on Feb. 26 reported record profit for 2015 as its conventional satellites booked more television channels, including an increase in high-definition broadcasts, and its Thaicom 7 satellite reached 100 percent fill rate.
Thaicom said its contract in India to provide “Head-end in the Sky, or HITS ,service to cable head-ends continued to grow and helped underpin the 5 percent growth in satellite-derived revenue in 2015.
The Thaicom-provided HITS is one of several indications that the Indian government, which has long sought to minimize foreign satellite access to India’s market, is now opening its borders to meet galloping Indian domestic television demand.
Thaicom said it has begun the process of securing the necessary government licenses to build and launch a Thaicom-9 high-throughput satellite to add capacity in regions where the Thaicom-4/IPStar satellite is full to capacity.
Thaicom-4/IPStar, located at 119.5 east in geostationary orbit, was launched in 2005 and made Thaicom a pioneer in direct-to-consumer satellite broadband. The satellite operates in Ku-band, whereas most other consumer broadband satellites operate in Ka-band.
Thaicom has hit regulatory speed bumps in the past and it was not clear whether the Thaicom-9 licensing procedure was a mere formality or could slow the procurement process.
“The license approval process is going on as planned and the company is currently in the process of selecting the satellite manufacturer,” Thaicom said.
One of Thaicom-4/IPStar’s principal markets in the past decade has been Australia, where it provides what Australian authorities call “interim” capacity to deploy broadband throughout the nation until Australia’s NBN Co.’s own Ka-band satellites are in full operations.
The first NBN satellite, NBN Co. 1A, also called Sky Muster 1, was launched in October. The second, identical satellite – both built by Space Systems Loral of Palo Alto, California – is scheduled for launch in late 2016 aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket.
Thaicom in 2015 won a contract extension to continue serving Australian consumers until September 2017. At that point, the company said, it would refocus its Australian operation to serve corporate and retail customers.
This plans are still in place, but the downturn in the Australian energy and construction industries has placed into doubt Thaicom’s ability to replace all of the lost consumer-broadband business starting in late 2017.
In a report to the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Thaicom said it had booked a non-cash impairment charge of 454 million Thai baht ($12.5 million) in 2015 as a precautionary measure relating to its IP Star Australia subsidiary.
Thaicom’s broadband service business held steady in 2015 but no more. Revenue was flat from 2014. Sales of Thaicom-4/IPStar user terminals were down nearly 19 percent compared to 2014, in part because of foreign-currency declines in Australia and Japan relative to the U.S. dollar.
Partly offsetting the revenue dips was additional business in Malaysia, India and Myanmar, Thaicom said. Thaicom-4/IPStar was reported 57.5 percent full as of Dece. 31, 2015, compared to 57 percent a year earlier.
But if its broadband business was treading water, its conventional satellite business, provided by the Thaicom-5, 6 and 7 satellites, was accelerating its growth.
Revenue from these satellites was up 12.5 percent in 2015, to 5.03 billion baht. The number of television channels carried on Thaicom satellites grew 13 percent in 2015, ending the year at 792. High-definition channels totaled 126 as of Dec. 31, up 15 percent from a year ago.
Net profit for 2015, at 2.122 billion baht for the company as a whole, was up 33 percent and continues a trend of higher profit that for Thaicom began in 2013.
Thaicom said its portion of the Thaicom-7 satellite, whose capacity it divides equally with AsiaSat of Hong Kong, was reported 100 percent full as of mid-November, helped by the Indian HITS business.
Thaicom-8, under construction by Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, and scheduled to add 28 Ku-band transponders to Thaicom’s 78.5 degrees east orbital slot, is scheduled for launch late this year aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. As of Dec. 31, the company had pre-sold 17 percent of Thaicom-8 capacity, Thaicom said.