Interviews Operators Satellite Vertical Markets

Passing the Torch

On March 1st, Eutelsat’s Michel de Rosen handed the reins to his successor Rodolphe Belmer who is now the new CEO of the global satellite operator. In an exclusive interview with Clayton Vallabhan, Michel de Rosen speaks about his six-years at Eutelsat

Michel de Rosen_EutelsatSatellitePro ME: What were the key highlights for Eutelsat in 2015?

de Rosen: 2015 reached a climax in the summer, with the launch of our EUTELSAT 8 West B satellite, a new star for broadcasters in the Middle East and North Africa. Launched on August 20, this satellite is a high-performance platform for regional broadcasters in the MENA region, particularly in the context of increased take-up of HD and the emergence of Ultra HD. Eighty channels were added onto the new satellite on the heels of its launch, making it quite a success story. Hitting the milestone of over 6,000 TV channels across our global fleet is also a source of great pride for Eutelsat. We continue to consolidate our position as a premium operator for the global broadcasting industry and are contributing to shaping the video ecosystem of the future, including with new solutions delivering interactivity.

SatellitePro ME: TV is still the lion’s share of Eutelsat’s activities. What are your key activities in the MENA region?

de Rosen: Eutelsat has been present in the MENA region for 25 years. Our focus on broadcasting in the region really shifted gear 10 years ago with tailor-made satellites and the transformation with Nilesat of the 7/8° West video neighbourhood. Today, over 52 million homes in North Africa and the Middle East are equipped for reception of more than 1,200 Arabic and international channels broadcast at this key neighbourhood. In addition to steady investments, we opened an office in Dubai to be near our customers and keep our finger on the pulse of trends in the Middle East. One clear trend we are witnessing is increasing consumer appetite for improved image quality. More and more channels are catching the HD train that will soon be followed by Ultra HD.

Another issue of paramount importance is combatting TV piracy. Piracy impacts all stakeholders in the region and causes heavy losses to the industry and the economy. As a member of the MENA Anti-Piracy Coalition we are part of an industry effort to address all forms of piracy that impact the sector. Many of our customers and partners are collaborating in this group to raise awareness about piracy and its effect on the TV industry.

SatellitePro ME: Eutelsat announced that it has sealed a deal with Facebook? What should we expect from the new venture that you are taking up with this giant web company?

de Rosen: Broadband enables users to reap full personal and professional benefit from the Internet, including emailing web-browsing, downloading, videostreaming, teleconferencing etc. All these applications can be difficult or impossible to run with classic low-speed connections, as is the case in Africa. The agreement we have with Facebook is to share the broadband capacity on a satellite to be launched in a few months. For Eutelsat, the capacity will enable us to focus on serving small and medium companies as well as high-end individual users in Africa. For Facebook, this satellite capacity represents a technology investment to enable cost-effective broadband access to unconnected populations. Facebook plans to work with local partners across Africa to utilise satellite and terrestrial capacity to deliver services to rural areas. This agreement has given a lot of visibility to satellite and to the particular relevance of geostationary satellites in the global broadband map including to Silicon Valley companies. Beyond the deal with Facebook, we are also investing in a dedicated High Throughput Satellite to be launched in 2019 that will provide broader coverage of entire sub-Saharan Africa,

SatellitePro ME: Do you see broadband as a long-term opportunity?

de Rosen: In terms of momentum, this is the application in the satellite market that will grow the most over the coming ten years. Why is that? Firstly, demand is absolutely huge. Every human being wants to be connected and billions are still waiting. 160 million Africans are connected to the Internet today, a figure expected to rise to 600 million by 2020. Satellite won’t serve all this growth, but it will have a share, combined with other technologies. In terms of supply, High Throughput Satellites are transforming the competitiveness of satellite broadband and they are getting more powerful and more flexible. They can keep up proudly with terrestrial infrastructure and will be vital for ensuring that we can build inclusive digital societies.

SatellitePro ME: How is the ‘New Space’, in other words the LEO and MEO systems, changing the dynamics of the industry?

de Rosen: We are closely monitoring the LEO world. We declined last year to invest in the OneWeb initiative as we considered the risks were too high and that we would not be able to create shareholder value.

We believe that geostationary satellites hold tonnes of opportunities in broadband, video, IoT, government services and other applications. Significant advances have been made over the last five years, with a new high water mark last year with the order of the Eutelsat Quantum software-driven satellite. With the significantly reduced cost per megabit afforded by the next generation of High Throughput Satellites, operators will be able to reach many more users, both with consumer and enterprise profiles. I think it would be a huge mistake to define ‘new space’ as LEO, and paint GEO with an ‘old space’ brush. New space is GEO, LEO and MEO and innovation can be found in more than one orbit!