Interview: Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari

What are the benefits of having a satellite focused on the Middle East and North Africa region as opposed to using existing infrastructure?

ALI AHMED AL KUWARI: Es’hail 1 is positioned at 25.5 East. In this region, we have two hot-spots: 7 West and 25.5 East. 7 West’s Ku band spectrum is almost fully utilised. Everyday in the region there are new TV channels and radio channels being launched.

These new channels need additional bandwidth or spectrum to be broadcast. NileSat and Eutelsat control 7 West, while 25.5 East is controlled by Arabsat and partially by Eutelsat. The market is in need of additional capacity for telecom operators, TV channels and radio channels, so since 25.5 East had additional bandwidth we decided use this location. We anticipate our entrance in 25.5 East will make this spot stronger than 7 West.

To what extent do you see Es’hailSat competing with Arabsat, given its role in the region?

AL KUWARI: We are not competing with Arabsat, as we previously signed a cooperation agreement with the group on August 19, 2013. This allows us to acquire some additional bandwidth, enabling us to operate Es’hail 2, which will be located in spot 26 East. This will ultimately help 26 East to be in a better position for Arabsat. Our agreement states that we will help to develop this hot spot, and we will not compete or enter into any price wars. We can compete in the quality of service, but in the end customers can choose which operator they want to use.

Which particular industries will be targeted as a customer base aside from public entities like local government agencies and the armed forces?

AL KUWARI: The private sector has shown interest in using Es’hail 1, and we have already received several applications from new private TV channels in addition to existing companies which are keen to switch to Es’hail 1. It is difficult to say exactly which groups will use the satellite and for what purpose, as the bandwidth for TV can also be used for radio and other services. There are a variety of services and companies that the satellite can cater to such as TV, radio, trunking, telecoms and network services. This is a main advantage of Es’hail 1, in that it offers multi-application services, which will attract a wide and diverse customer base. To date, we have signed agreements with Al Jazeera, several Qatari broadcasters, as well as non-Qatari broadcasters.

With a planned network in development, why are multiple satellites being launched, and what is the timeframe for launching Es’hail 2-6?

AL KUWARI: Our business plan is driven by market conditions and the market is demanding additional broadcast capacity. The current climate is promising, with considerable interest, therefore we decided to proceed with our second satellite, Es’hail 2.

We have moved to put Es’hail 2 in the same orbital capacity as Es’hail 1 for several reasons. The first is to increase our capacity, and the second is to enhance our presence in the area as Es’hail 1 is located at 25.5 East, and Es’hail 2 will be located at 26 East in the same neighbourhood. Additionally, by having both of them close by they will be able to act as backups for each other as all satellite operators need a backup in the same orbital location.

Finally, it was important that we acquire a second satellite and not lease, which was initiated though our cooperation agreement with Arabsat.

Es’hail 2 is currently in the tendering process with an estimated investment of approximately $350m, including the ground infrastructure.

We are planning to launch it at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. Our tentative plan for six satellites was drawn up a number of years ago, so we will have to revisit the business plan. In terms of enlarging our current fleet, the future will be market driven and it depends on the country’s needs.