[Via Satellite 10-14-2015] Hong Kong-based satellite operator APT Satellite wants to include more high throughput payloads on future satellites and sees mobility markets growing in importance. The company currently operates a fleet of five satellites, and has a sixth, Apstar 9, slated to launch Oct. 17 from China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
Apstar 9 supports C- and Ku-band payloads, including a high-powered steerable spot beam for Direct-to-Home (DTH) television and data transmission over Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Mongolia and other regions. Huang Baozhong, EVP of APT Satellite, told Via Satellite that the operator has more spacecraft planned and is interested in having High Throughput Satellite (HTS) capabilities on many of them.
“We have plans for additional spacecraft beyond Apstar 9 and the Apstar 5 replacement,” he said. “Details of the future satellite are still to be finalized, but one thing is for sure: we will have also HTS payload in the future satellites.”
Apstar 5, also known as Telstar 18, is a joint spacecraft with Telesat of Canada. Baozhong said APT Satellite is currently working with Telesat on designing the replacement satellite. Telesat said earlier this year that it anticipates placing an order for the replacement satellite by the end of the year, and that the company is also considering high throughput capabilities.
HTS is on the rise in Asia, as many operators consider leveraging advanced satellites. Australia’s NBN Co recently launched the first of two HTS satellites last month and China Satcom ordered equipment for its first HTS satellite, ChinaSat 16 in August. More operators, such as Intelsat, Eutelsat, O3b and ABS, along with newcomer Kacific, are all planning for HTS capacity in the region as well.
Research firm NSR forecasts geostationary HTS will bring roughly 300 Gbps of HTS supply to Asia by 2020 in one of its latest reports.
Apstar 9’s C-band payload will mainly serve South East Asia, while the four Ku-band beams target multiple verticals, with maritime being a large focus. Baozhong said the Ku beams cover almost the whole South Pacific region and part of the Indian Ocean, where APT Satellite sees the busiest routes for ships and aircraft, leading to “huge growth potential,” for aviation and maritime, he said. China Eastern Airlines demoed In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) with APT Satellite last year, and Baozhong said he anticipates it is only a matter of time before all airlines start providing passenger connectivity. In September APT Satellite signed a capacity agreement with Sinosat and Shenzhen Marinesat on Apstar 9 focusing on the maritime market.
The Asia Pacific is a strong market for video broadcasting as well, with Japan and South Korea among the leaders in 4K Ultra-HD. China leads the world in the number of 4K televisions sold, however, Baozhong does not expect this to lead to 4K broadcasts anytime soon.
“China will first complete its transition from SD to HD, which will take very long, before it starts commercial 4K broadcasts,” he said.
David Watkins, director of connected home devices at Strategy Analytics, confirmed this point.
“China is still the leading market having accounted for 70 percent of global [4K TV] shipments in 2014 and we forecast it will account for 56 percent in 2015. We forecast shipments in China of 15.4 million units in 2015 up from 8.5 million in 2014, Watkins told Via Satellite, adding that the research firm is not aware of much, if any, 4K content activity in China.
“From the streaming side 4K is a non-starter in China,” he said. “With an average broadband speed of 3.7 Mbps (source: Akamai State of the Internet Report) there is no way you can stream 4K in China, and we are not seeing anything from traditional broadcasters.”
Watkins said Japan and South Korea, which have more traction toward Ultra-HD, have the highest penetration of 4K TV sales outside of China. Strategy Analytics forecasts 4K to account for 11 percent of total TV sales in each country in 2015. Watkins linked most 4K to Over-the-Top (OTT) services, and that, said outside of South Korea and Japan, most places have insufficient bandwidth to support such services. This could present an opportunity for satellite operators, as a lack of terrestrial telecommunication infrastructure often translates to greater demand for satellite. Japan’s B-SAT is preparing for 4K and 8K with its newest satellite, and Watkins noted South Korean satellite broadcaster KT Skylife has launched three 24-hour 4K channels. In India, satellite broadcasters Tata Sky and Videocon have also launched 4K services with a single channel each, he said.
Though much of APT Satellite’s revenue comes from the Asia-Pacific, the company’s fleet covers 75 percent of the world’s population. Compared to the first half of last year, APT Satellite’s profit increased by 9.6 percent during the first half of 2015, despite increased competition in its core market. Baozhong said that APT Satellite considers itself a global operator, though one region of the world remains beyond its coverage. Future satellites could change that.
“Currently APT Satellite’ s revenue is mainly from the Asia Pacific — including Australia and New Zealand — South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, North America, Africa and Europe. Therefore, we are already a truly global satellite operator. However, geographically we do not have capacity covering the American continent yet and maybe it is desirable to have capacity that is able to serve this region but we do not have concrete plan yet,” he said.
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