Top Fixed Satellite Service Operators: Eutelsat

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Paris-based Eutelsat in the past has always described itself as a company that sticks to its knitting.

Its competitors are expanding onto new continents? Eutelsat is fine in its home territory of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Ground hardware manufacturers and service providers as acquisition targets? Eutelsat would pass on that, thank you.

Mega-satellites are the fashion? Eutelsat would remain with tested versions of spacecraft built mainly by European manufacturers.

Because Eutelsat shares a near-duopoly with SES of Luxembourg in the provision of satellite television in Western Europe — whose broadcasters buy satellite bandwidth at a far higher cost than their equivalents in Asia and the Americas — the lack of adventure never hindered Eutelsat’s growth.

That was especially true as the Middle East became a place where satellite bandwidth could be sold at a premium, especially to the U.S. Department of Defense, whose buying policy up to now has forced it to purchase capacity on the spot market, which is generally more expensive than securing it via long-term contracts.

Eutelsat may be the single biggest beneficiary among the major satellite fleet operators of this unexpected demand. Whether it continues is a subject of debate, but for now the drawdown of coalition forces in Iraq appears to have had minimal effect.

For the nine months ending March 31, Eutelsat reported a 29.3 percent increase in what it calls its “Multi-usage” revenue, which is mainly government customers interested in coverage in the Middle East. Once again, it was Eutelsat’s fastest-growing division, even if it remains only 10 percent of the company’s total revenue.

In the midst of this straightforward growth story, Eutelsat three years ago announced that, alone among the major satellite fleet operators, it would invest in what are now called high-throughput satellites in the form of the all-Ka-band Ka-Sat, which began commercial operations in May.

Ka-Sat is the first of what is expected to be at least a half-dozen high-throughput satellites offering broadband service to consumers and businesses that are now either under construction or under active consideration around the world.

Just as surprising, Eutelsat decided to jump into the consumer broadband market in partnership with a U.S. provider of ground terminals — ViaSat of California. The French government is investing in competing technologies in the hope of unseating ViaSat for future satellite broadband systems. But for now Eutelsat and ViaSat are looking at how to combine their two Ka-band networks to offer an unbroken Ka-band coverage area stretching from California to the Middle East.