What has been the company's experience over this first year of operating the first Es'hail satellite?
After the launch in August 2013, it took another three months before we could operate from the satellite. We announced on the country's National Day, December 18, the first broadcast. We have tried to link national events with our achievements. The first broadcasts from Es'hail 1 was Al-Jazeera network news followed by beIN Sports in January. In that respect, the experience really started when we began broadcasting and having customer interactions. It is clear that lessons are being learnt. Es'hail 1 still has some capacity to be marketed. There is a demand from local customers; however, we do not want to keep it only local. We would like to have others as well because we want to be a regional operator.
The first satellite is operated in partnership with your French partner Eutelsat. In the future, you are aiming to be fully independent. What is your strategy toward realizing that objective?
This objective should be met when we operate Es'hail 2. Es'hail 1 is partially owned by the French due to their experience; hence, they are operating the satellite. Still, we have a center here for interfacing with customers and for troubleshooting. Es'hail 2 will be a fully owned satellite. We are building a huge operations center in the northwest of Qatar dedicated to it. However, we also have to build the human capital. During Eshail 1, we created a training program with our French partners. During the manufacturing process of the second satellite, we have a similar idea to deploy engineers to our new partner in Japan. The satellite industry is new in Qatar, and it is fair to say that we do not have Qatari experts. Qatar is small in terms of population, but that does not mean we should not develop and train our people, which is what we are doing now. We are investing heavily not only in equipment, but also in human capital.
As an operator of satellites in this region, there are some competitors from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. What is your competitive edge over these other operators in the region?
No doubt, we have the Egyptian NileSat as one of the largest competitors and we have ArabSat. When we decided to get in we did not want to start in a greenfield state; therefore, we decided to enter into discussion with ArabSat, who owns 26West. We got the acquisition, so 26East now has two operators, namely ArabSat and Es'hailSat. I do not consider ArabSat as a competitor; I consider it a partner. In competing with 7West, we have to have different advantages to bring and attract contract providers. The edge here as I can see is price and quality of service.
What are your plans in expanding your operations in order to compete with NileSat?
When we started in 2010, we had a tentative plan to launch six satellites. However, any strategy and ongoing business plan should be refreshed based on market factors and requirements. When we started the operation and saw the reality, we found the strategy should be refreshed and we should not quote a number. Satellites should happen based on requirements, on demand, and on company expansion. Now, I can say that Es'hail 1 and Es'hail 2 are moving according to the first version of the strategy. We are beginning to think about Es'hail 3, and its requirements, and where to deploy Es'hail 3, because any satellite launching has to have a spectrum and money. We have an issue with the spectrum, since we do not own one and striking a deal with Arabsat costs a lot. These factors should be considered when you make your strategy. We know the changes that happen in the market now and how it moves forward.