Yahsat takes majority stake in Thuraya

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WASHINGTON — Emirati fleet operator Yahsat on April 26 said it is acquiring a majority stake in fellow Emirati operator Thuraya for an undisclosed amount.

The purchase folds Thuraya’s two L-band satellites into Yahsat’s fleet, growing its constellation to five satellites.

“The acquisition of the UAE’s first home grown satellite operator, Thuraya, will significantly expand Yahsat’s current satellite solutions portfolio for both commercial and government verticals, as well as its global footprint,” Yahsat said in an April 26 statement.

Thuraya in recent years had purported interest from L-band competitor Inmarsat and Hong Kong-based technology company China Trends Holdings Limited, neither of which culminated in an acquisition.

Yahsat, a fixed satellite services provider and Thuraya, a mobile satellite services provider, are two different breeds of operator, though the distinction between the two has eroded in recent years. Yahsat operates three satellites, Al Yah 1, 2, and 3, that deliver television broadcasts as well as broadband connectivity for VSAT, or very small aperture terminal, networks, mobile networks and other customers. The third satellite, Al Yah 3, has yet to reach its orbital location after an off-course Ariane 5 launch put the satellite in an incorrect orbit. Al Yah 3 is expected to reach its geostationary perch in June, according to Yahsat.

Thuraya provides satellite telephone and Wi-Fi hotspot services for individuals, land vehicles, boats, aircraft, emergency responders, governments and other customers.

Growing interest by fixed satellite services operators in providing internet to airplanes and other mobile platforms has blurred the lines between them and mobile satellite services operators, though differences in spectrum type do delineate the types of services they often provide to the same vehicles.

Thuraya formed in 1997, having raised roughly $500 million from investors led by the Emirates Telecommunications Co., Etisalat. The operator’s Thuraya-2 and Thuraya-3 satellites cover most of the world except for the Americas. In 2016 Thuraya partnered with Carlsbad, California, fleet operator Viasat to release a Thuraya satellite terminal that worked on Viasat’s network, expanding Thuraya’s reach to North America.

Yahsat’s satellites, including Al Yah 3, cover Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Brazil.

Thuraya in 2016 announced plans for a next-generation constellation called Futura that it hoped would bring global coverage in L-band and possibly include some high-throughput Ka-band payloads. That constellation was originally to launch in 2020, but will likely miss that date as Thuraya has yet to order any spacecraft. What impact Yahsat’s acquisition will have on those plans is not immediately clear. Thuraya’s satellites are 10 and 15 years old, putting one (Thuraya-2) at the end of its expected service life. Geostationary satellites often outlast their nominal 15-year service lives by a few years, but how long depends on spacecraft health and the amount of fuel remaining onboard.