Satellite-fleet operator Arabsat is confident that they – and to a lesser extent Nilesat – have cornered the Middle East

market for direct-broadcast satellite television.

With four satellites under construction, including two for Arabsat’s prime television broadcast location at 26 degrees east longitude, the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based company sees little chance that competitors such as SES, Eutelsat, Telesat Canada or Intelsat could establish a secure video foothold in the region.

“You know how difficult and time-consuming it is to create hot spots,” said Mohammed Youssif, Arabsat’s chief commercial officer, referring to established satellite spots to which user antennas are pointed. “Most TV today in our region is in Arabic and most of the dishes are on Arabsat, with some on Nilesat. I don’t see the feasibility of someone else coming in to cover the same region.”

Youssif made his remarks Feb. 27 during the Satellite 2008 conference in Washington, during which Arabsat presented data showing it had increased the number of television households by 26 percent, to 163.8 million, between 2005 and 2007.

The company currently operates three Badr satellites at its 26 degrees east location. A fourth, Badr-6, is scheduled for launch this year aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket and it will replace the Badr-C satellite there. A fifth satellite for this location, called Badr-5, is set for launch in early 2010 aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket. Both are under construction by a joint team of Astrium Satellites and ThalesAlenia Space.

fleet-expansion plan at 26 degrees east will give it more in-orbit backup capacity, which video broadcasters often demand to assure continued coverage in the event of a satellite failure.

Egypt’s Nilesat

also is planning an expansion. Nilesat operates two satellites at its 7 degrees west orbital slot and has struck an agreement with Eutelsat of Paris for the use of a Eutelsat spacecraft to add to its capacity there. The current Nilesat spacecraft are full, according to Nilesat officials, but while the company has long planned a second-generation satellite, it has not yet ordered one even though the Nilesat 101 and 102 satellites are scheduled to be retired in 2011 and 2013.

said Arabsat for now assumes that Nilesat’s established position at 7 degrees will be retained, and that the battle for market share will be between these two companies only.

“Today the competition is over who has more channels at a given orbital position,” Youssif said. “I think it would be really tough for anyone else coming into the region.”

In addition to 26 degrees east, Arabsat is developing two other orbital positions for telecommunications services in the Middle East, Africa and the surrounding region. The Arabsat-2B satellite is at 30.5 degrees east, and is scheduled to be joined in late 2009 by the Arabsat-5A spacecraft following an Ariane 5 launch.

The company plans to open its 20 degrees east position in 2011 with the Arabsat-5C spacecraft, Youssif said.

Howard Farr, Telesat’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the Ottawa-based company’s fleet expansion following the incorporation of satellites owned by Loral Space and Communications of New York puts it in good position to grow in the Middle East.

does not intend to compete with Arabsat for satellite-television viewers, but the Canadian company’s Telstar 10, Telstar 12 and future Telestar 11N satellites will go after cellular backhaul services and corporate communications.

Farr said some business and government users in the Middle East are migrating from satellites to terrestrial services, but that Telesat nonetheless expects satellite transponder prices to hold steady and perhaps to increase in the next three years.