Qatar at the forefront of space

by Clayton Vallabhan | April 4th, 2016

Space X Contract Sign Photo_2The satellite sector in Qatar has been growing steadily since the birth of Es’hailsat in 2010, which meant less dependence on the other satellite operators traditionally serving the market. Moreover, with large TV conglomerates like Al Jazeera and beIN having Qatari interests, it was only natural for the country to invest in building its own satellite, and more recently a teleport.

Qatar is constructing its own teleport on a 50,000sqm site north of Doha. Given the enormous size of the project, it is split into multiple phases with construction of the technical buildings for telemetry, tracking and command (TT&C) and hub services to be completed by Q1 2016. Fit-out with systems and equipment for the technical building is to commence immediately after.

Phase 1 of the construction also includes redundant and diverse fibre connectivity to major broadcast networks in Qatar and to the international fibre gateway. The teleport will be ready to support services for customers as early as the middle of 2016. Phases 2 and 3 of the project will include a corporate office, an antenna farm and a support building for customers, which will be completed by early 2017.

The new teleport will be a state-of-the-art facility providing capacity management and a wide range of services such as uplink, downlink, contribution, multiplexing, encoding, playout and broadcasting, tailored for customers and business partners. The teleport will also provide back-up studios for TV channels and serve as a disaster recovery facility for broadcasters. The site will be connected to the key media broadcasters in Qatar and to the international fibre gateway by means of a redundant, dedicated and diverse fibre optic link.

Ali Ahmed Al Kuwari, CEO of Es’hailsat, says that besides building satellites and a teleport, it is really important to grow the local space industry in Qatar.

“Our goal is to contribute to the development of a knowledge-based economy and a communications-based society in Qatar. In addition to building the communications infrastructure, we are also investing in and developing local talent through training programmes with satellite manufacturers and providing scholarships for students to study satellite communications. In 2013, we initiated a capacity-building and development programme with our first satellite, Es’hail-1. Four engineers from Es’hailsat completed a 26-month intensive training programme with SSL in California, designed to provide the engineering staff with the ability to specify, oversee the manufacture of, launch and operate commercial communications satellites.

“We have continued this programme for Es’hail-2 with our trainee engineers at Mitsubishi Electric Company (MELCO) in Japan. In addition, we have sponsored a number of Qatari students who have enrolled in degrees specialising in satellite communications at the University of Surrey in the UK. Having satellite knowledge and operational experience plays a vital role in greater self-reliance and therefore sustainability of the space industry in Qatar,” says Al Kuwari.

Furthermore, Es’hailsat has been conducting educational outreach programmes throughout 2015 by taking Es’hailSat Ambassadors out to a number of schools in Doha to tell the story of Qatar’s first satellite. Students can hear what it takes to design, build and put a satellite into space and learn how important satellite networks are for everyday life.

As for Es’hail 1, Al Kuwari says it continues to go from strength to strength, demonstrating the value of the operator’s offering in terms of technical capabilities and performance, but also in terms of independence and security of content.

“In addition to providing transmission for established news, sports and entertainment channels, a growing number of Arabic channels are choosing Es’hailSat to launch in the MENA region. Qatari cultural channel Al Rayyan and Al Araby Television Network, a London-based platform for Arab youth, talent, energy and aspirations, both recently launched HD channels exclusively on Es’hail-1.”

With subscriber growth of 34% since starting transmission on Es’hail-1, BeIN Sports recently launched new HD entertainment channels, seeking to diversify and expand its audience with new content including film, entertainment and travel, lifestyle, kids and documentary programming. Al Jazeera too has commenced transmission of a new bouquet of HD channels on Es’hail-1, making 25.5-degrees East truly a hotspot for quality.

The operator has also recently begun trialling VSAT services. Commercial rollout will commence soon, and a number of customers are in the final technical evaluation stages. Es’hailsat hopes to finalise the details and roll out these services throughout 2016. The bandwidths being considered are from 4Mbps/2Mbps to 140Mbps/6Mbps.

“We recently announced a major development and collaboration agreement with Ooredoo that allows both companies to work together on a range of new satellite and world-class communications services for Qatar. Demand for VSAT services has risen sharply in recent years, particularly in remote locations such as deserts and coastal areas. Our partnership with Ooredoo helps drive home-grown innovation and stimulate the development of a full portfolio of solutions to support VSAT business,” says Al Kuwari.

Es’hailsat has been seeing a growing demand for Ka-band services across the MENA region, especially in hub-based solutions and mobility services. In 2015, it developed a Ka-band hub in Doha which provides flexibility to service providers, allowing them to choose a style of engagement and commitment to suit their business needs.

Through the hub’s high-tech infrastructure, managed service providers (MSPs) can provide telecom solutions that support a range of satellite-based data communications applications, ensuring their customers benefit from flexible and efficient technologies providing higher compression with lower latency, as well as encryption, WAN optimisation and bandwidth optimisation for OPEX savings. The main services provided by the new Es’hailSat hub are internet services, VoIP services and corporate network connectivity.

Es’hailsat is also on its way to additional premium satellite capacity in MENA, with the expansion of its fleet of satellites. Es’hail-2, a second high-powered, advanced satellite, will continue to boost broadband delivery, broadcasting and global connectivity for Qatar, the entire MENA region and beyond. In August 2015, Es’hail-2 completed a significant milestone – Critical Design Review (CDR) – permitting the spacecraft to move into the assembly phase and remain on schedule for a Q4 2016 launch.

“Passing CDR validated that Es’hail-2 will meet our requirements and perform as expected for our customers and stakeholders. Es’hail-2 will provide high-quality, premium DTH content across the Middle East and North Africa from the 26-degrees East TV hotspot,” explains Al Kuwari.

“Es’hail-2 is a high-powered, advanced satellite with both Ku-band and Ka-band capabilities to provide TV distribution, telecoms and government services. The satellite footprint covers the Middle East and North Africa and will be positioned at the 26-degrees East hotspot location. Es’hail-2 will have a payload of 20 Ku-band transponders and 12 Ka-band transponders with fixed spot beams.”

Es’hail-2 will provide continuity and expansion services for anchor broadcast customers on Es’hail-1, such as beIN SPORTS and Al Jazeera Media Services. In addition, Al Kuwari says a number of MENA broadcasters and communications providers have expressed interest in Es’hail-2 capacity; the operator will be announcing these nearer the launch. To support Qatari national interests, Es’hailsat will also be supporting capacity and service requirements for Qatar’s government agencies.

As secure transmissions continue to be of paramount importance in MENA, Es’hailSat is working closely with the IRG (Interference Reduction Group), underlining its commitment to reduce and eliminate satellite interference and provide a secure transmission network for customers.

The IRG has a number of accomplishments, including the widespread adoption of Carrier ID in time for the 2012 Olympics, resulting in satellite operators achieving interference-free Olympics transmission. With Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup, the operator encourages its customers to use Carrier ID as part of the cooperation within the IRG community.

Both Es’hail-1 and Es’hail-2, scheduled for launch in 2016, have been designed with advanced anti-jamming capabilities to meet the needs of the MENA market.
With the country abuzz with all these developments, the main aim remains to raise general awareness of the field of space and satellite communications and to promote and foster space technology development in Qatar.

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