"Muhammed Alhaj-CEO-Gulfsat"

Gulfsat: The satellite industry’s one-stop shop!

Chairman & CEO Mohammed Alhaj speaks to Teletimes in an exclusive interview alongside Commercial & Sales Director, Dr. Reyad Douglas

Interview – Khalid Athar

"Muhammed Alhaj-CEO-Gulfsat"

Muhammed Alhaj, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer – Gulfsat

Khalid Athar: Please give us a quick background of Gulfsat Communcations.

Mohammed Alhaj: Established in 1995 as a pioneer in the delivery of satellite communication services, Gulfsat Communications is now the leader in the communication service industry, providing an innovative platform for satellite communications, satellite broadcasting and managed telecommunications solutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Gulfsat designs, integrates, and deploys reliable, secure and cost-effective turnkey communication solutions to enterprises, government organizations and home users.

Gulfsat is a subsidiary of United Networks, a member of Kuwait Projects Company (KIPCO Group), the region’s leading investment group. KIPCO has earned a reputation for quality and excellence as a premier investment holding company in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Through our sister concern, Gulf Communications, we deal with ground networks. So basically, with our complete package, we are in the sky and on the ground.

KA: Please tell us about the various business divisions within Gulfsat and some insights into your operations.

MA: We have three main business divisions for Gulfsat, G-Link for Satellite connectivity links, G-Cast for broadcasting and TV channels and G-talk which is the voice interconnectivity services.

Gulfsat is a prime global partner with Eutelsat. We have an agreement of leasing multiple lifetime capacity transponders on Eutelsat satellites in a very prime orbital position. We are quite strong in the DTH business. Today we have more than 200 channels on our platform.

We are operating in multiple countries – in terms of regional sales offices we have Jordan, Cairo besides the Kuwait Head Office. Operationally, we have affiliation agreements with affiliation partners for teleports around the globe. We have uplink facility in New York, Cyprus, Paris and Slovenia besides Kuwait. Our centre for media aggregation and our playout centre is based in the United Kingdom.

We also do satellite connectivity in the form of data connectivity or converged platforms (Data, Voice and Video) for Oil, Banking, Maritime and Military & Defense sectors.

KA: Would you like to comment on how things have been so far in 2016 for you and how do you see the rest of the year for business?

MA: 2016 has been a challenging year so far and it looks as if it will remain to be challenging till the end. We have to strive hard and sustain our business. We have to focus on the business we already have in this year as we believe that 2016 is not a perfect year for growth. With so many challenges present, I am proud to say that Gulfsat is doing quite well and should continue to do so throughout the year and beyond, but our focus for this year will be to effective and efficient in our current business for now while we prepare ourselves for growth in the future.

KA: The recent turmoil related to oil prices has deeply affected the satellite industry. Please discuss how this has affected your business? 

MA: As a part of the larger industry sector, yes, we have been affected by the reduction in oil prices. Many companies have focused towards reducing the size of operations in this area and the competition is tough. The demand is reducing day by day with reduction in oil prices and the supply is much more than what is being demanded which is leading to many satellite companies moving towards other verticals.

One vertical many companies have targeted is the security and military business. However, it is not same as the Oil industry. Many countries are adamant on keeping their own national satellites and many political issues also come to surface. We are actively participating in the Military sector as a key vertical for us, however it is still sometimes an issue for us if we consider targeting other countries, especially outside the GCC.

If we look at the Middle East, our region is not completely connected through the ground infrastructure and many challenges exist in doing so. Therefore, satellite connectivity should play a key role in ensuring connectivity throughout the region.

KA: Moving forward, which verticals do you see as most profitable and having the potential to grow?

Dr. Reyad Douglas: In a long term perspective, I still believe Oil, Milsatcom and Telecom (GSM Backhauling) to remain the biggest driver of data connectivity demand for the satellite industry. Even though there are many new verticals coming up and many new applications, I believe these areas will continue to serve as the backbone for data demand in the coming years.

"Dr-Reyad-Douglas,-Commercial-Sales-Director-Gulfsat"

Dr. Reyad Douglas, Commercial & Sales Director – Gulfsat

If we look at the Middle East, our region is not completely connected through the ground infrastructure and many challenges exist in doing so. Therefore, satellite connectivity should play a key role in ensuring connectivity throughout the region.

KA: Many new LEO satellite companies are coming up as a new threat to existing satellite companies in addition to the existing competition. Would you like to comment?

MA: Our targeted customers such as the ones in the Oil and Security sectors don’t depend on shared platforms. Some time back, we worked on a contract of connecting 90 embassies globally over 90 different countries. Our focus is on clients that require certain types of technologies and throughput that cannot be provided by Low Orbit Satellites that are operational today. We are working in a different arena, our target market is a different type of clients and as such, we do not feel that LEO satellites can fulfill the demands of the customers in the same manner they are being done by us today.

KA: Please tell us about your operations with respect to the telecom sector.

MA: We have comprehensive agreements with multiple telecom operators that go beyond Backhaul and Voice Termination. We are active with respect to telecom services and I see a growing need for Backhaul in the North African region where there are huge countries with scattered population and satellite connectivity becomes crucial so this should be one area which we will be targeting in the near future.

"Muhammed-Alhaj-Riyad-Douglas"

KA: Please talk in detail about what you believe to be Gulfsat’s competitive edge over other players in the market today.

Dr. Reyad Douglas: Many customers today have to go to multiple companies for the services they require to create a tailored network that suits their needs. Gulfsat is a one-stop shop – we are in the sky and we are in the ground. Our services and our network are very vast and can accommodate all types of customers and their specific needs. One of our key strengths lies in our efficiency and automation, for example provided content, it takes us 15 minutes to get a channel running on the satellite.

Gulfsat is a one-stop shop – we are in the sky and we are in the ground.

Our services go beyond a typical satellite company – we can provide you with devices that will keep you connected on the go, and allow uploading, broadcasting, downloading, streaming and everything else you wish to do with a satellite right from where you are. It’s like a small moving SNG and you can carry it out. Such products provide a lot of application for the satellite industry. This device works with LTE as well as the satellite network and it is just one example of what kind of services we are providing.

So if you say Gulfsat is just a satellite company, no – we are much more and beyond the traditional satellite company.

We take the customer with his entire connectivity needs, and using our satellite and ground networks we help them stay connected. Infact, we go as far as providing consultancy on the type of hardware they should use internally. This kind of involvement with our customers takes us beyond the customer-supplier relationship to a partnership relationship and helps us fulfill the customers’ needs completely.