From installing a 4.5-metre antenna to overhauling the antenna farm for an earth station of a local broadcaster in Gabon, Mazen Nassar’s team at MenaNets, demonstrates the value of building trust amidst installing satellite dishes, feedhorns and multiplexers. SatellitePro ME speaks to Mazen Nassar in his Jebel Ali Free Zone office.
The antennas the client had been buying were of poor quality and poor installation was compounding the problem. They would buy a five-metre antenna and it would perform like a three-metre antenna
Mazen Nassar, managing director of MenaNets is a veteran of many African trips and can narrate any number of installation stories of varying difficulties, as well as offer handy tips on staying malaria-free. Nassar has completed projects in Sierra Leone, Chad, Central Africa, Sudan and Ethiopia, among other countries. He concedes that conditions can be harsh but then he counters that by saying, “Which profession does not have hazards? Accountants have ergonomic issues.” An interesting take on an undeniably challenging job at hand!
Having just completed a three-week stint in Gabon, helping install a 7.6-metre antenna, Nassar recounts an ongoing project with a local broadcaster, that goes beyond sundry antennas and cables, to illustrate a growing trust between a solutions provider and end-user.
An overview of the project
“The client in Gabon receives French channels and they broadcast them over microwave,” says Nassar. He adds, “Homes have the standard UHF antenna and a basic receiver. We are currently overhauling their earth station. They are growing from 100 to 250 channels and they needed a large antenna to receive European channels.
Since the country is located at the edge of the satellite footprint, we have installed a 7.6 antenna to ensure that the signal is strong. In addition, we are helping them upgrade from MPEG 2 to MPEG 4.“
Commenting on the justification for the technology upgrades, Nassar says, “For the client, it is not just a question of getting better quality, but the better technology will help him save on cost of operations. With the upgrade to MPEG 4, he will be saving on bandwidth. While the UHF is free, bandwidth usage is a concern and with the upgrade, he can telecast more channels on the same bandwidth.
For the client, it is not just a question of getting better quality, but the better technology will help him save on cost of operations
Moreover, with a possibility of getting licenses in Ghana that has a potential audience of more than 20 million and other countries in central Africa, beyond just expanding in the provinces in Gabon, he is looking at a healthy return on investment.”
Choice of solution provider
What must probably seem like music to the ears of David Roberts and his team at CABSAT, Nassar met with the client for the first time at the annual event in 2011.
He recalls, “The antennas the client had been buying were of poor quality and poor installation was compounding the problem. They would buy a five-metre antenna and it would perform like a three-metre antenna.
“Not lining panels correctly during installation was one of the issues. Moreover, if the structure supporting the antenna is welded together, then you do not have the leeway to adjust in case it has moved around during shipping, as compared to an antenna that has screws. And often there are variances because so many antennas are produced, but you would need a competent installer to detect the variances.”
Nassar also noted that the raw material of the antennas was of inferior quality. He explains, “If the reflector is made of thick aluminium, it will preserve its curvature. Whereas a poor alloy will expand and contract easily. Also the quality of the antenna should also be judged by how the reflector is held from the back. Can the screws withstand the wind load over time? And lastly the issue of rust. If the panels get rusted, the metal will not be smooth and will not reflect as effectively.”
“There were other issues as well. Gabon is outside the footprint of the satellite coverage and it is also close to the equator bringing in complications with regard to adjusting the look angle of the antenna. While they already had about 20 antennas in their earth station, they had issues with regard to reception.”
Expansion of the scope of work
What started as a brief meeting in CABSAT 2011, has now grown into an ongoing relationship, states Nassar. “They basically approached us because they had issues with their previous antennas and they wanted to see if our antenna would perform better considering the significant price difference. They ordered the antenna, we shipped it and we installed it. Once we got there, we observed a number of issues that could very easily be enhanced towards achieving lower interruptions and fewer outages, without spending too much money.”
The client, Nassar believes, is satisfied. “They must be happy because we are getting more business from them. Since we installed the 4.5-metre antenna in 2011, we have since installed the 7.6-metre and another 4.5-metre recently.”
Nassar adds, “However the actual scope of work has expanded beyond the initial installation of the antennas. While we are resellers for the ASC Signal antennas among a range of brands, we install other antennas as well. We managed to get a gain of 5db on one of the antennas that had been installed poorly with no proper alignment of the sub reflector, and with the panels not in their proper numerical position.”
Challenges during installation
Throwing light on the challenging logistics the MenaNets team had to contend with, Nassar says, “The first shipment came from the US because we did not have a prior relationship.
With the recent 7.6-metre antenna, there was a delay in delivery because an appropriate air freight solution had to be found for such a large consignment.
“Moreover, the installation was to be on top of a hill where the microwave towers were located and so were the GSM operations, which posed various interference issues. Since a tall enough crane was not available, they brought a truck with a winch. To increase our problems, the ground was soft and the truck got stuck on the way out – in addition, the gate had to be dismantled to let the truck out. All in all, it was quite a memorable installation.”
Feedback from client
For Mazen Nassar, the expansion of the initial scope of work did not come as a surprise. “With almost all our clients, the scope expands over time, based on growing confidence and trust between the parties, driven of course, by the performance of the products. With the cheaper antennas, the client has had to keep buying equipment.
With the antennas we have installed, they have had to come up with a comparatively bigger budget in the beginning, but over the years, the antenna offers better performance and even with newer satellites, the antennas will continue to perform
“With the antennas we have installed, they have had to come up with a comparatively bigger budget in the beginning, but over the years, the antenna offers better performance and even with newer satellites, the antennas will continue to perform. Relocation is simple as well because of the way the antennas are built.
“Plus they are able to get a couple of packages they could not get before. In addition, we observed that they were running RG-6 coaxial cables over 60-70 metres when an RG-11 would have cut their losses by half. They had mentioned to me that they ‘were killing themselves for every db’. We supplied the appropriate roll of cable and this has made a huge difference.”
With a projected purchase of six to seven antennas for the provinces on the anvil, Nassar comments on the future of the project. “The objective is to reach 250 channels while ensuring a professional system with IP routers and good quality multiplexing. They are in the process of upgrading from commercial receivers to a professional system.
“Of course, since we are working in an existing setup, there are a number of legacy systems that have to be dealt with. For instance, they are using amplifiers and commercial splitters when they could have gone for an active splitter that has an amplifier in it.
“The initial purchase order mentioned antennas, feedhorns and installation of antennas. Now we are looking at building the headend, running cables from antennas, pulling in the different routers, ensuring IP access and in the future, the client is planning to upgrade their encryption system.
“We want to do it in phases. In Africa, there is always a concern about changing physical and business environments. We suggested to the client that they should upgrade bit by bit and evaluate the outcomes after every phase.”
With offices in Beirut and the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai, MenaNets was established in 1999. The company offers systems integration for satellite and other land-based networks and is an authorised distributor of satellite equipment including brands such as ASC Signal. Mazen Nassar, CEO, MenaNets, is a GVF Master Trainer for the MENA region.