Imparting Knowledge

by Clayton Vallabhan | November 2nd, 2015

DSC_0337Arabsat’s eighth Broadcasting Forum, Atheer, took place in Marrakech, Morocco last month, and was attended by 130 delegates, many of who are the operator’s major customers.

The location of the event tied in nicely with the Arabian theme, and Marrakech lulled all present with its old-world charm and resplendent culture. The event was held at the new Savoy Le Grand in Marrakech, which exuded an ambience of grandness and opulence.

The 26-degree East hotspot which is Arabsat’s prime hotspot, has been hotly competed against by other operators. Arabsat’s objective is to differentiate itself and be the first choice for the Arab world. In order to achieve this, says Ahmed Balkheyour, President and CEO of Arabsat.

He says the company has taken many initiatives to improve the hotspot.

“The administrative part of these initiatives is the right content. We also have the best fleet in the region with Badr 4, Badr 5 and Badr 6. Badr 7 is also coming up at the 26-degree East orbital position, and hence technically we have the best coverage and the newest fleet, which we are expanding in other locations of Arabsat too.”

Balkheyour thinks that part of the lure for customers to this hotspot is its agreement with Es’hailsat. He considers this partnership a solid proposition for enhancing the value of the hotspot.

“In Qatar, there is a lot of content, through local government channels and Al Jazeera and BeIN. It’s a win-win situation, we share with them our location, they grow and we grow, and this enriches 26-degrees East. We also have all the capacity needed with our new fleet. We can cater for HD, and also for a lot of additional channels. This will help us grow.”

Other Arabsat initiatives include being closer to customers. It has contributed to building platforms in many countries, which are going to be exclusively broadcast through Arabsat.

The operator has also introduced the concept of spot beams, where different broadcasters can selectively choose different coverage areas across the Arab world. Balkheyour believes these availabilities will help leverage customer needs.

With the launch of Badr 7 on November 10, there will be a lot more incremental capacity at the 26-degree East hotspot. Balkheyour says: “Badr 7 has Ku-band capacity, spot beams and Ka-band, which offers high throughput for data. The satellite also has coverage over the MENA region, as well as all of Africa.”

“Today, we are transmitting around 550 channels on our Badr fleet, and with this expansion we will be able to host around 1,000-1,500 channels. All of this capacity will be sold directly to the broadcasters through Arabsat, and not resellers. This is what further differentiates us in the way we do business in the region.”

The Ka-band capacity on the satellite was pre-sold to Trio, a triple-play service provider. Balkheyour thinks this will enhance the location and add to Arabsat’s customers that need data services and the internet.

Another customer concern is the need for anti-jamming capabilities. Technology can be embedded in the satellite so that it can be used for anti-jamming; however, this is very expensive on commercial satellites.

Arabsat does things a little differently. Balkheyour says the operator can mitigate jamming through ground control, where it uses different spectra or different stations to uplink to the satellite. A jammer can only be within one particular location or spot to jam, and jamming usually comes from within a neighbouring country. He explains that this makes it unlikely that the signal can be jammed, as it is being uplinked from multiple locations.

“Speaking about the Ka-band spectrum on our satellites, there are two things. The first is that it is not readily available in the market and costs much more, but it’s not only that. Even if a jammer can acquire a station, he has to be within that spot to jam the signal. Another option that we are offering on Badr-7 is the ability to uplink from Europe, so a jammer has to be in Europe to jam, not in the neighbouring countries in the Arab world. These will protect our customers from intentional jamming.”

Arabsat has had a few jamming experiences in the last three years, and Balkheyour says the operator fought against these in technical and legal ways. It addressed the problem to the Arab League and the ITU in Geneva, and measurements were taken in the legal arena.

He thinks jamming has been reduced significantly since implementing these initiatives, and says with a smile of contentment that in the last six months there have been no cases of jamming, and that he is sure it will stay that way.
Atheer was a power-packed event that also discussed other salient topics that educated Arabsat’s clients about new technologies incorporated by the operator. It addressed pertinent issues such as piracy and content protection, and ways to mitigate the emerging threat.

CEOs from the Arab satellite and broadcasting world were present at the event, including Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari of Es’hailsat, Sam Barnett of MBC, Saud Alganam of Al Majd Network, Samir Safir of My-HD, Amr El Kahky of Al Nahar TV and Dr Raed Khusheim of Selevision.

Panel discussions ruled the first day of the event, followed by interviews with movers and shakers in the industry on the second.

Balkheyour says: “We have developed this event for eight years and are very keen to be close to our customers, as well as differentiate ourselves in our customer care. We at Arabsat are serious about doing this actively, and interaction with our customers is key. We always encourage them to come to our networking events and be active in expressing their needs, plans and how we can serve them better.”

He says that he is very pleased with the turnout this year, and that Arabsat always tries to find a place with easy access for visas, as well as a serene environment where people can relax. The main focus, however, remains the operator’s customer needs.

There were many dignitaries that attended, including Fawzi ElGhowil, Director of the Technical Secretariat of the Information Ministers Council, in the League of Arab States. In a speech, he asserted the necessity of implementing the Arab media code of conduct as a binding regulation for media professions in the Arab region. He also stressed the need to adopt professional ethics in methodology and behaviour, applying to all media, as it is a major outlet that serves the causes of mankind. This includes the adoption of the Arab media action plan outside the Arab region and approval of the anti-terrorism joint Pan-Arab media strategy.

Also present were representatives from Saudi Media City, who explained that the public authority for audio-visual communication in Saudi Arabia seeks to further develop the media sector in the country. It encouraged channels to broadcast from within Saudi Arabia and is looking forward to launching new channels based in Saudi Arabia, as well as encouraging Saudi-owned channels operating abroad to move their headquarters to the Kingdom.

“We have a lot of competition. Arabsat started the first satellite TV operation in the Arab world. After a while, other operators came on, and there was also competition with operators from outside the Arab world. This is what concerns me, because then we lose control of our ethics, standards and guidance, and it recedes into becoming non-obligatory.

“I’m not talking about controlling the media. We do believe in free media, but there is no absolute freedom. There are always some guidelines, whether it’s for Arabic media or international. People have to work within those guidelines and respect their viewers. We are not a media company, we transport media. However, we do have a responsibility,” says Balkheyour.

In conclusion, Atheer was a real pleasure to attend, and was a fantastic networking opportunity for Arabsat’s customers and players in the industry.

It was about a three-hour scenic drive from the airport in Casablanca. Acres of agricultural land were interspersed with goats grazing in pastures, a shimmering river passing sleepily through and the picturesque Atlas mountains in the background. The soothing pink architecture throughout the resort town of Marrakech provided just the reprieve necessary for a hardworking community like ours, and the rich cuisine of saffron-infused tagine, combined with mesmerising storytellers and entertainment, transported all and sundry to a place that time forgot.

The city’s medina was a throwback to a medieval era when the Berber dynasty ruled supreme. Rustic horse-drawn carriages transported tourists through maze-like alleyways, where throngs of market dealers sold artefacts, pottery, cosmetics, jewellery and textiles.

Morocco left a lasting impression, and the generosity and friendliness of its people will be forever etched in memory.

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