A star is Born [DigitalProductionME.com]
(DigitalProductionME.com Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Es'hailsat is Qatar's upcoming satellite operator, which intends to launch its first satellite, Es'hail 1, in August. Backed by the Qatari government and a CEO with a laser-focused vision, this star seems set to shine bright.
Es'hailsat, which began as Qatar Satellite Company in 2010, is the new satellite operator in town. The company's name has been adapted from a star, Es'hail, which becomes visible in the night sky of the Middle East, as summer turns to autumn.
Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari is the company's CEO and has a vision to make Es'hailsat the Middle East's alternative choice for customers of advanced communications services.
He says the company offers broadcasting and communications solutions, and operates independently to offer broad geographical coverage. Es'hailsat aims to be part of Qatar's diverse economy and contribute to the success of Qatar's 2030 vision. The company's first satellite, Es'hail 1 will be launched this August.
Speaking about what services Es'hailsat offers its customers, Kuwari says: "In terms of the services related to telecom, Es'hail 1, the first satellite will provide services related to trunking, to broadband and services related to data and V-sat. This will be quite a significant side of the business."
We believe that through Es'hail 1 we are bringing extra capacity to the market and the region. We are also focusing as much as possible on quality for our stakeholders.
In Qatar we have a selection of broadcasters and telecom operators, so those operators can benefit from our services in having broadband trunking in all those areas where there is no connectivity or fibre," continues Kuwari.
Kuwari says that Qatar is well connected by fibre, but in other regions where there are no terrestrial cables, operators can use capacity on Es'hail 1 for connectivity.
Es'hail 1 will be launched to target broadcast clients and media, voice and data, as well as government entities. Its satellite beam covers 26 countries in the MENA region and some in parts of Southern Europe.
From a broadcast perspective, Kuwari says the satellite is particularly useful to journalists and for Satellite News Gathering (SNG). Local media network Al Jazeera has signed a contract to use a variety of Es'hailsat's services, when the satellite becomes fully operational.
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Sheikh Ahmed Bin Jassim Al Thani, director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, said: "Our channel covers regions and events across the world managed from our facilities in Doha. It is a major step forward that Qatar now also has its own satellite operator and we look forward to working closely with Es'hailsat in the future".
Due to the increasingly crowded Ku band space, Kuwari thinks the capacity for broadcasters will be depleted within five years. This is where the Ka band comes in, and Es'hailsat's satellites are equipped with both bands. As broadcasters gradually understand the advantages of broadcasting on Ka band, there will be a shift, and Es'hailsat will be able to address the market.
"Between today and until the markets get mature enough and believe in Ka, we are marketing our capacity in a way where we should provide better terminals. Right now Ka band is mostly used for data and telecom and Ku is heavily used by the broadcasters. Due to the high demand from the broadcasters in up-linking and down-linking content, the Ku in the hotspots is almost fully utilised, so there is no place to grow or to expand."
The problem with Ka band is that networks will have to upgrade their ground-level infrastructure. Kuwari believes that the market is not ready for it yet as this needs huge investment on the ground and will affect the broadcaster.
He believes the change needs to be initiated by the broadcaster, as the satellite company can support both bands and it is not a problem for it to address capacity on the Ka band.
"We heard about operators who are pushing to move to Ka, but the broadcasters we have spoken to are not willing to upgrade at this stage. They want to make sure there is no more Ku band to expand within, but this will take time.
Al Jazeera is growing rapidly, every month it has a new channel either sports or news, when they are told there is no capacity to grow they will realise that they should think about having another solution. I think I see that Al Jazeera now is not willing to take the risk. In five years time, they will be ready to move," says Kuwari.
Kuwari says another objective of Es'hail 1 will be to cover VSAT services and satellite communication services. For this the operator will tap into industries like maritime and oil and gas.
Kuwari says: "We are working with them closely now to understand what type of services and how long they need it, so I believe by launching Es'hail 1 in Summer 2013 we will have a better understanding of their requirement."
Es'hailsat already has a partnership agreement with Eutelsat. Its first satellite was built in partnership with Eutelsat, where it owns 55.5% and Eutelsat owns the rest of the satellite.
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Kuwari says this partnership has been very beneficial, as Es'hailsat is benefitting from the extensive experience Eutelsat has on the operation side, with its resources and its many years of experience.
Speaking about Es'hailsat's investment, Kuwari says since Es'hail 1 is the first satellite for Qatar, it is a learning curve for the country, for its engineers and for the industry itself.
"We are trying to build the industry within Qatar so the investment so far, we believe is reasonable and is meeting the objectives we have for the first satellite. So far Qatar has invested around $300 million for the first satellite including build, launch, to insure and setting up the company."
"We don't have ground control as yet because our first satellite will be operated by Eutelsat in Paris but we have a monitoring centre in Doha which monitors all the signals, quality of service and all the interface with the customers," continues Kuwari.
The satellite will be officially launched in August, but will come into commercial use only after two or three months. The initial objective is to work closely with the government agencies within Qatar.
Kuwari says that there are some security requirements that government agencies have requested, so at the first stage, the company is working closely with them to ensure the requested services are up and running.
At the second stage Kuwari says the operator will use a distributor to tap clientele. "We can't work in isolation but a distributor will be at the second stage when we close all the objectives and requirements of the government agencies, because Es'hail 1 has pure strategic objectives for the state of Qatar," says Kuwari.
The idea of Qatar Satellite came about after Qatar decided to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Kuwari also adds regrettably, in 2010 when Al Jazeera won the rights for the World Cup in MENA, the channel faced severe interference issues within the MENA itself.
This issue could be resolved by broadcasting through Es'hail 1, Es'hailsat was also part of Qatar's 2030 vision, which is built on four pillars, one of which is the ICT industry.
Kuwari says having a satellite is considered part of the ICT sector, and Es'hailsat fulfils that objective.
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Kuwari says: "We are ready and waiting to launch Es'hail 1 if things move on track. We are also pleased that we just completed a very intensive training course for Qatari engineers. We have deployed four engineers in Palo Alto in San Francisco where we built our satellite space system, and have designed a tailored course for Qatari engineers to train for 26 months."
Moreover Kuwari says Es'hailsat is also concentrating on its ground equipment for Es'hail 2, which will be launched soon. "If we succeed and decide on our partner within the second quarter of this year I believe the launch of Es'hail 2 will happen by early 2016."
It is clear that Es'hailsat is on a definite path to bring Qatar to the forefront of the satellite space, however what are the constraints and limitations that could deter progress?
Kuwari says: "To build a satellite you need two things.
You need spectrum and you need money. We are lucky not to have any problem with money, but we came late to the industry and all the orbital slots and spectrum was already taken by others.
If you want to start late and be in the hotspots you have to pay a premium, so either you partner with someone, or acquire an existing company, or you do joint ventures. This is what Qatar is doing now, we are partnering with others who own spectrum."
He says in the MENA region there are two main hotspots. These are 7-degrees West and 26-degrees East. The 26-degree East orbital position is owned by Arabsat and Eutelsat. Hence Es'hailsat has partnered with Eutelsat for part of 26-degrees East in order to be in the hotspot.
It is also currently in negotiation with other operators for another hotspot, as it would be easier to become part of a good hotspot, than create another orbital position.
Another challenge that Kuwari highlights is the need for competent people that can support the company to grow. He says this is crucial in order for the continued success of Es'hailsat.
Speaking about future plans, Kuwari says the company has a tentative 10-year plan, which it aims to deliver in three phases. "We have phase 1, where we are trying to cover the MENA, which I believe Es'hail 1 and 2 will fulfil. Then we will move outside MENA and I believe the next market will be Asia. Finally in phase three, we believe in going global."
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