With the arrival of the new digital global economy, the need for regulations have exponentially grown
Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari, President & Chief Executive Officer at Es’hailSat
Interview: Khalid Athar
Q: Please give us an overview of Es’hailSat’s achievements over the last year?
A: Over the last year we have leased additional transponders to launch new high definition sports and entertainment channels with beIN Media Group and added new Arabic channels on our MCPC bouquet. In addition to that we showcased live transmission of 4K UHD channel during CABSAT 2017 using latest compression and modulation technologies. Furthermore, Es’hailSat successfully carried out voice and data backhaul for major events in Qatar through our teleport and hub. As part of our expansion plan Es’hailSat signed MoU and terms sheets with partners, customers and VARS for new services. With the intention to expand and grow beyond our traditional market, we are currently in advanced stages of discussion with potential partners for new satellites in new regions.
Q: How has Es’hailSat evolved over the past years and what are the main challenges you face today?
A: As with any new company, early years were about supporting strategic stakeholders and partners within Qatar. Over the past year we have been expanding our services inside as well as beyond Qatar, broadcasting several regional Arabic channels, supporting off-shore voice and data connectivity, mobile backhaul services, etc. At Es’hailSat we thrive to provide quality services for our customers therefore with Es’hail-1 almost full, our biggest challenge is to continue to provide our stakeholders and customers with capacity and services. We believe Es’hail-2, which is scheduled for launch in 2018, will address these short to mid-term requirements. Many broadcasters in the MENA region are also facing challenges with interference.
We believe that with our new teleport nearing completion and with the most advanced anti-jamming capabilities available on our satellites, we are well positioned to address these challenges.
Q: Please talk about the role of the Regulatory Authority with respect to satellite broadband and broadcasting? What is needed from the Regulatory Authorities to create a thriving ecosystem for satellites?
A: With the arrival of the new digital global economy, the need for regulations have exponentially grown and therefore it is crucial for Regulatory Authorities to understand the complex relationships between policies and industry growth, and come up with new policies and regulatory framework that help spur digital economic growth. Regulatory Authorities constantly need to address certain issues with include frequency sharing and interference avoidance between geostationary and non-geostationary satellites; sharing of Ku-band and Ka-band frequencies between satellites and UAVs; reallocation of C-band frequencies to terrestrial services; etc. and hence maintain a stable Regulatory Framework for the industry.
Q: Which areas are you currently covering in the Middle East and Asian market? What services are you providing in this region?
A: Qatar is our primary market for broadcast and telecommunications services, and we will continue to support all requirements within Qatar In terms of broadcasting, we see the affluent countries in GCC having strong appetite for new content, given the high disposable income in the market. Also as consumers in the region becomes more appreciative of premium content in HD, we believe that the demand for niche content will grow and pay TV will become more prevalent and accepted. Countries in North Africa are also potential consumers for this premium content in HD. Furthermore, we also provide voice and data connectivity to off-shore and on-shore locations that are not connected by terrestrial networks within the region
Q: What are the on-going trends in the satellite space within the Middle East and Asian market?
A: In broadcast space, higher quality content on satellites and Pay TV model are trending and from technology perspective, both broadcast and telecommunication services are looking at bandwidth efficiency with higher compression and latest modulation schemes. Another important and growing area is satellite capacity demand for inflight connectivity for entertainment. Moreover, flight data management is set to increase over the next few years. Also, we believe that the demand for satellite capacity for maritime services is also set to increase over the next few years.
Q: With the rise in IPTV and streaming, how is the broadcasting market changing in this region?
A: Although IPTV, streaming and OTT services are definitely on the rise in MENA, access to compelling content, right pricing strategy and piracy will be the main concern for these services. We think that countries with good broadband infrastructure in GCC will be more engaged in these services compared to countries in North Africa. Since Pay TV penetration is still low in the region, major networks and channels are rolling out high quality content in high definition to attract new subscribers. Moreover, with investment in latest compression and modulation technology these networks are also considering launching 4K UHD channels. Also, we see a shift in consumer behavior from lower quality FTA content to higher quality Pay TV content despite the region having a strong FTA market for a very long period of time in the past.
Q: What will be the key drivers of satellite demand in the coming years and which areas do you think look most promising? Please also talk about the market segments/verticals you see as most attractive for the coming years.
A: The digital media sector in the MENA region is dynamic and is expected to grow annually by 7% over the next 3 years. This growth is fuelled by demand for local Arabic content as well as expansion of premium channels. We see the DTH market in MENA region growing driven by the growing demand for premium content in High Definition (HD) and the launch of new content, bundles and platforms. Consequently, broadcasters are making the transition to HD, bringing compelling new HD content that can be viewed on larger screen by customers.
The digital media sector in the MENA region is dynamic and is expected to grow annually by 7% over the next 3 years.
We will continue to see HD and new transmission technology provide opportunities for satellite operators and broadcasters to expand the service offerings to the consumers. In terms of other verticals, we see the demand for satellite capacity increasing in the near future for maritime and aerospace services not just in terms of mission critical data or services, but also in the entertainment segment with high volume on-demand content and internet traffic which requires substantial amount of satellite capacity.
Q: How is Es’hailSat contributing to the Qatar vision 2030?
A: Our goal is to contribute to the development of a knowledge-based economy and a communications-based society in Qatar. In addition to building communications infrastructure, we are also investing in and developing local talent through training programs with satellite manufacturers and scholarships for students to study satellite communications programs. In 2013, we initiated a capacity-building and development program with our first satellite Es’hail-1, where 4 engineers from Es’hailSat completed a 26-month intensive training program in USA.
We have continued this program for Es’hail-2 with trainee engineers being attached with MELCO in Japan. We have also sponsored a number of Qatari school leavers who are enrolled in degrees specializing in satellite communications at universities in the UK.
We strongly believe that having relevant knowledge and operational experience plays a vital role in ensuring greater self-reliance and sustainability of the space industry in Qatar and therefore our efforts are directed towards establishing and aiding means to gain knowledge and rich operational experience.