As Qatar joins the space fray with Es’hail 1, a joint mission with Eutelsat, commercial and national strategic interests will be revisited across the region. SatellitePro ME visited the Qatari capital, Doha, and spoke exclusively to the CEO, Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, on the upcoming launch of Es’hail 1 in Q2 2013.
It is difficult to gauge how excited average Qataris are about their space programme – but the apparent dearth of patriotic hoopla is more than compensated by way of a pragmatic approach to acquiring a foothold in space.
When the thinking began in 2009, the government formed a committee representing all the major stakeholders in the country
“When the thinking began in 2009, the government formed a committee representing all the major stakeholders in the country. The stakeholders defined their requirements,” recalls Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, Es’hailSat’s CEO.
Speaking to SatellitePro ME in Doha, Al Kuwari says, “What is important is we started from the end user. ictQATAR is the executor of this mission.”
Armed with the requirements of the stakeholders, Al Kuwari’s team had the task to define the best way forward. “We had to either take the Greenfield route or explore well-established orbital slots. We opted for the latter and chose Eutelsat, because they are a major operator in the MENA region. They have a presence in 7 West and in 25.5 East. At 7 West, they have partnered with Nilesat and we decided to partner with them at 25.5 East. It is our first satellite so we decided to have it in one of the most lucrative locations over the MENA region.“
We decided to partner with them (Eutelsat) at 25.5 East. It is our first satellite so we decided to have it in one of the most lucrative locations over the MENA region
Collaboration with Eutelsat
With Eurobird 2 coming up for replacement, Eutelsat welcomed the opportunity to partner with Es’hailSat, according to Al Kuwari. On the nature of the collaboration between Es’hailSat and Eutelsat on Es’hail1, slated to enter into service in the second quarter of 2013, Al Kuwari explains: “The Qatar Satellite Company was established in 2010 and now we are operating under the name of Es’hailSat. Our first satellite is a joint venture with Eutelsat at one of the region’s hotspots – the orbital slot 25.5. deg East. As part of this agreement, we own 54.5% of the satellite and the satellite will be operated by Eutelsat owing to their expertise in the field.
“In addition to securing Ku-band continuity for Eutelsat and additional Ku-band resources for Es’hailSat, it will initiate a Ka-band capability to open business opportunities for both parties. Marketing of the capacity will be done separately. We, on our part, are starting from scratch.”
In addition to securing Ku-band continuity for Eutelsat and additional Ku-band resources for Es’hailSat, it will initiate a Ka-band capability to open business opportunities for both parties. Marketing of the capacity will be done separately
The marketing juggernaut has started rolling with a much-publicised signing of the launch partner at Satellite 2012 in Washington and the announcement that the company would take 60 sqm of space at the region’s premier satellite event.
“The signing of Arianespace as our launch partners was intentionally planned at a high-profile event such as Satellite 2012. Our sales efforts should get under way by the third quarter of 2012. In the meantime, we are moving to a standalone building and we are in the final stages of finalising a vendor for the NOC,” says Al Kuwari giving a glimpse of the clinical process of putting Qatar’s satellite programme on the world map.
There is also an underlying sense of urgency. Was the urgency driven by the 2022 FIFA World Cup or by the need to have backup in the event of another undersea cable breakdown as it occurred off the coast of Fujairah (UAE) some years ago? These and more reasons have been cited.
In response to the dispute over the orbital slot 26 degrees East, a spokesman from Es’hailSat stated: “The interested parties at 26 East are conducting frequency coordination discussions at the ITU. All parties are motivated to ensure that operations at 26 East are not subject to interference and the premier DTH neighbourhood at 26 East continues to develop from strength to strength.”
Poised to serve national stakeholders
With a lucrative hot spot and iconic stakeholders such as Al Jazeera, Al Kuwari’s team would have some readymade takers for the capacity. From the installed base of more than 13 million satellite homes equipped for DTH reception across the region to the growing demand for HDTV, Es’hail 1 has a captive market going forward.
It is not about competition, reiterates Al Kuwari. “Along with Yahsat, Arabsat, Nilesat, Eutelsat and others, we are increasing capacity over the region. In addition, we have seven transponders for Ka-band that will be used for telecommunication and news gathering, among other uses. Our strategic objective remains securing capacity for our Qatari stakeholders. There is no question of special rates and other such privileges. Ultimately, we will be operating in a commercial environment and end-users are completely free to shop around for the best options available.”
We have seven transponders for Ka-band that will be used for telecommunication and news gathering, among other uses. Our strategic objective remains securing capacity for our Qatari stakeholders
Es’hail 2 on the anvil
Going forward, Al Kuwari reveals that there are plans for Es’hail 2. “We will soon announce a partner for Eshail 2. The business model will be different. We will be operating Es’hail 2 from Qatar and we will need to construct a teleport for that purpose.”
In the meantime, the Qatari team with no legacy in the satellite sector is keeping the learning curve manageable. “We are going at this gradually and that is why the first satellite is being operated by Eutelsat,” says Al Kuwari.
Al Kuwari’s own initiation into the world of transponders, payloads and bandwidths is reflective of Qatar’s step-by-step approach to the world of satellites. A finance person, and erstwhile finance director of ictQATAR, Al Kuwari had a ringside view of the brainstorming session from the outset and was keenly involved in the design phase as well.
We will soon announce a partner for Eshail 2. The business model will be different
“Personally it continues to be a thoroughly interesting journey. More importantly, the project is also about empowering local Qataris. We currently have four engineers training at the Palo Alto facilities.”
The US$ 250 million Es’hail 1 story is another MENA satellite milestone in the making and while the sighting of the Es’hail star in Arabic tradition signifies a change from summer to winter, the Qatar Satellite Company is poised for more enduring change.
Qatar’s ICT-2015 strategy
Qatar has invested US$1.65bn in information technology and services as part of its ICT-2015 strategy. The country is planning to build digital networks, smart cities and venues and other technology-rich features to ensure that FIFA 2022 in Qatar will be the “most amazing World Cup ever”, in the words of ictQATAR secretary general Dr Hessa al-Jaber.
The country rolled out a National FTTH network through a recently-established broadband company. This network, called Q.NBN, will serve as Qatar’s link to the internet world with Synchronous Transport Module level-1 (STM1) – levels reaching more than 1,400 by the year 2022.
It will be augmented by the launch of Es’hail 1, Qatar’s first independent satellite, in 2013. Taken together, this network will deliver an ultra high-speed, open, affordable and reliable network, reaching 95% of the nation by 2015. Qatar’s mobile penetration has reportedly reached more than 150%, the highest rate in the world, while internet penetration reached 84% in 2010.