OUT OF THIS WORLD

Qatar 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Hessa Sultan Al Jaber, Chairperson of Es'hailSat, on the foundation of the organization, expansion to Asia, and strategies for the coming year.

What dimension can Es'hailSat give to the economic diversification of Qatar?

Es'hailSat was created in 2010 purely for strategic objectives. At that time, the government of Qatar thought of creating an independent satellite operator to serve Al Jazeera Media Network's needs, which was using the capacity of other regional players. Having our own operator means that our satellite operations would not be influenced by foreign political decisions and we could cater to the demands of the country's broadcasters. I quickly realized the huge commercial impact this decision would have. We bought an orbit slot and created a new satellite to compete for the MENA region with other players like Arabsat. We found a good partner in Eutelsat, the European satellite company, which helped us with the first satellite to enter into commercial service in 2013, Es'hail-1. During this time, we have built a satellite industry in Qatar and we now have the vision to become a global satellite operator and services provider.

How is Es'hail-2 going to help you expand your reach?

Es'hail-2 will still cover the MENA region, as it will be located in the same orbital slot as Es'hail-1. However, Es'hail-2 comes with advanced technology to make sure that nothing can disrupt the service that is provided through the satellite. The strategy behind launching a second satellite is that we will use Es'hail-1 for broadcast and military purposes and Es'hail-2 will add new communication services. Broadcasters are nowadays looking for high density with zero disruption, which is what Es'hail-2 will be providing. Their capacity will be utilized by any broadcaster interested in transmitting in the MENA region. We will expand our services in two ways. On one side, we will adapt our expansion plans to the needs of the Qatari telecommunications companies. For example, in 2016 beIN Sports acquired Digiturk and is interested in expanding into the Turkish market. Following this line, last February we signed an agreement with Total TR Medya to exclusively represent Es'hailSat and market our services in Turkey. On the other side, satellites have a limited lifespan. Therefore, we will look at the markets where satellites are at the end of their life and we will raise funds to launch a new satellite to cater to the needs of the operators. In this regard we are looking at the Asian market in countries such as Indonesia, where Ooredoo has substantial business. As we cannot build satellites all over the world, we will also enter into partnerships with existing satellite operators to cover other regions. We have a good relationship with Eutelsat and SAS, the world's largest satellite operators, and we can provide services to companies like Qatar Airways to provide entertainment on all their planes.

How could the potential of the IT sector in Qatar be unleashed?

I believe that economic diversification is only viable through technology. As we diversify our economy we need to expand our market scope, and technology allows us to reach the whole MENA region. When I worked in the ICT sector I realized the importance of creating small local companies instead of hiring the best system integrators in the world. Those sophisticated systems are expensive to maintain, so in 2008 we invested USD8 million in creating Malomatia, which started with around 10 employees. Now Malomatia has around 650 employees and it is going through an IPO with a high value. Rather than buying another company, its growth was organic, and all its 650 employees are talented and skillful Qataris. This has impacted many economic sectors, such as health or education. It has tied in with leading international players to develop new products, such as with a Singaporean company for customs services. Although it started as a small company, it is now targeting the region. This is where I see diversification happening. The government should only interfere in the market when there is a shortage, but with cases like Malomatia it can leave the control to the private sector. The base for growth will come from having a competitive environment favored by the right regulation. I have been working with a lot of startups all my life and this gives me energy for the future. They do not only need the funding but also the right support strategically and technically. I am currently focusing on health and how technology can help to provide better healthcare.

What are your expectations for 2017?

We agreed on specific targets. Although the manufacturer was delayed in handing over Es'hail-2, we have started working on specific projects to expand our services internationally. While we wait to cover the MENA region with Es'hail-2, the company is building its footprint internationally. Furthermore, in 2016 we started the construction of our teleport, which will be operational in the second half of 2017. This facility will support the control and capacity management for Es'hailSat satellites and will benefit MENA broadcasters. In three years from now we will be operating in Asia with Indosat and present in Turkey. These are the main areas of focus.