Two-Firm Race for Mideast Satellite Television Market

Satellite-fleet operatorArabsat is confident that they — and to a lesser extent Nilesat — have corneredthe Middle East market for direct-broadcast satellite television.

With four satellitesunder construction, including two for Arabsat's prime television broadcastlocation at 26 degrees east longitude, the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based companysees little chance that competitors such as SES, Eutelsat, Telesat Canada or Intelsat could establish a secure video foothold inthe region.

"You know howdifficult and time-consuming it is to create hot spots," said MohammedYoussif, Arabsat's chief commercial officer, referring to established satellitespots to which user antennas are pointed. "Most TV today in our region isin Arabic and most of the dishes are on Arabsat, with some on Nilesat. I don'tsee the feasibility of someone else coming in to cover the same region."

Youssif made his remarksFeb. 27 during the Satellite 2008 conference in Washington, during whichArabsat presented data showing it had increased the number of televisionhouseholds by 26 percent, to 163.8 million, between 2005 and 2007.

The company currentlyoperates three Badrsatellites at its 26 degrees east location. A fourth, Badr-6, is scheduledfor launch this year aboard a European Ariane 5 rocket and it will replace theBadr-C satellite there. A fifth satellite for this location, called Badr-5, isset for launch in early 2010 aboard an International Launch Services Protonrocket. Both are under construction by a joint team of Astrium Satellites andThales Alenia Space.

Arabsat's fleet-expansionplan at 26 degrees east will give it more in-orbit backup capacity, which videobroadcasters often demand to assure continued coverage in the event of asatellite failure.

Egypt's Nilesat also is planning an expansion. Nilesatoperates two satellites at its 7 degrees west orbital slot and has struck anagreement with Eutelsat of Paris for the use of a Eutelsat spacecraft to add toits capacity there. The current Nilesat spacecraft are full, according toNilesat officials, but while the company has long planned a second-generationsatellite, it has not yet ordered one even though the Nilesat 101 and 102satellites are scheduled to be retired in 2011 and 2013.

Youssif said Arabsat fornow assumes that Nilesat's established position at 7 degrees will be retained,and that the battle for market share will be between these two companies only.

"Today thecompetition is over who has more channels at a given orbital position,"Youssif said. "I think it would be really tough for anyone else cominginto the region."

In addition to 26 degreeseast, Arabsat is developing two other orbital positions for telecommunicationsservices in the Middle East, Africa and the surrounding region. The Arabsat-2Bsatellite is at 30.5 degrees east, and is scheduled to be joined in late 2009by the Arabsat-5A spacecraft following an Ariane 5 launch.

The company plans to openits 20 degrees east position in 2011 with the Arabsat-5C spacecraft, Youssifsaid.

Howard Farr, Telesat'svice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the Ottawa-basedcompany's fleet expansion following the incorporation of satellites owned byLoral Space and Communications of New York puts it in good position to grow inthe Middle East.

Telesat does not intendto compete with Arabsatfor satellite-television viewers, but the Canadian company's Telstar 10,Telstar 12 and future Telestar 11N satellites will go after cellular backhaulservices and corporate communications.

Farr said some businessand government users in the Middle East are migrating from satellites toterrestrial services, but that Telesat nonetheless expects satellitetransponder prices to hold steady and perhaps to increase in the next threeyears.

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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at