All systems go

Khalid Balkheyour, CEO, Arabsat, discusses the latest trends in the MEA satellite sector

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All systems go Khalid Balkheyour, CE0, Arabsat, said the industry is being challenged by a severe lack of spectrum.
By  Nithyasree Trivikram Published  September 19, 2010

With operations in the broadcast and communications sectors, Arabsat has a clear view of the Middle East’s satellite sector. Khalid Balkheyour, the company’s president and CEO, tells Nithyasree Trivikram about the latest developments in the market and where he thinks the main growth opportunities lie.

COMMSMEA: What growth patterns do you see in the satellite communications sector in the MENA region?

The MENA satellite sector is an integral part of the global telecommunications network worldwide, and therefore, global trends will potentially have regional repercussions with a local flavour.

Our MENA region is no different and its satellite industry plays a leading role in embracing these changes and tailoring them to meet the growing needs of our customers.

Connectivity to the Internet, be it through simple access or broadband access, is a clear trend that we have seen and expect to see in the future. Here at Arabsat we have developed a broadband satellite solution to meet this market’s requirements in the GCC and beyond. We expect this high-tech solution to be fully operational next year.

CommsMEA: Which areas of the satellite sector are you looking to for growth in the coming years?

Sometimes too, local trends help shape the makeup of our regional satellite industry and, from that perspective, Free-To-Air (FTA) channels are an important contributor to our growth.

Other growth patterns that we have seen and that we are pursuing include the HDTV market, which is still evolving as most available content is not yet HDTV-ready. But, we believe that HDTV adoption will accelerate in the next few years since HD content is increasingly available and TV sets are becoming affordable. We are even eyeing 3D, but still further down the road.

CommsMEA: Tell me about the two operating stations of Arabsat in Riyadh and Tunisia?

Arabsat’s operating station in Riyadh, the Dirab Station, is the primary control station for all Arabsat satellites. Tunis station is a secondary station for the same purpose. Both stations are operating in tandem to provide full redundancy and guarantee service continuity in case of a technical difficulty. They also handle the satellite station to keep our satellites’ position and performance within their nominal targets.

Riyadh station also includes Arabsat Operation Centre, a 24/7 call and customer care centre that performs required testing for customers’ networks and monitors quality of service on board all satellites.

We have seen the need to provide some of our customers with teleport services for Internet backbone access, for example. And it has been our strategic view so far that building partnerships with specialised teleport service providers in MENA and Europe is the best answer to meet our customers’ requirements in operational and economical terms.

CommsMEA: What regulatory challenges do satellite operators face, particularly in terms of operating in so many different countries in the region?

Arabsat has acquired all necessary licenses for its operations in the region in coordination with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the international regulatory body in charge of the satellite industry.

ITU has stringent requirements including the necessary co-ordination with all existing and planned networks in order to ensure minimum service interruption. With the burgeoning number of operational satellite networks, it is becoming unworkable to lead a co-ordination to a successful completion due to the lack of spectrum. The lack of additional frequency resources allocated by the ITU to the satellite industry is one of the most important issues facing the satellite industry today.

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