SPACE PROWESS

Qatar 2019 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

The blockade resulted in 95% of local broadcasters shifting to Es'hailSat, pushing the company to operate at full capacity and form new partnerships to launch more satellites.

Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari
BIOGRAPHY
As President and CEO, Ali Ahmed Al-Kuwari is responsible for the strategic direction, leadership, and day-to-day operations of Es’hailSat. Prior to this, he was the assistant secretary general at ICT Qatar and was a member of the organization’s management team overseeing the strategic investment in the satellite company which later became Es’hailSat. Al Kuwari has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in financial analysis.

What are some recent highlights of the company, and what are you currently planning?

In 2Q2017, we had many ongoing developments for both the country and the company. Es'hail-2 was supposed to launch in 4Q2017; however, it was postponed to 4Q2018 due to design changes. Building a satellite is a complicated process, and we need to be sure everything is perfect, because once it is launched, we will not be able to fix any issues. There were changes in requirements, which led us to making changes in the design. Es'hail-2 will complement Es'hail-1, which was a joint venture with France-based Eutelsat. Es'hail-2, however, is completely our own satellite. This satellite will be in the same orbital slot and is aimed at increasing capacity, allowing us to attract more customers and in turn more revenue; thus, we will see a higher retention rate. When we started the company, we had a different vision. The market circumstances were completely different; at that time, we wanted to launch four or five satellites. Since then, the challenges have increased, and we have become more realistic. We also target regions other than MENA, where we have had great success. We are currently in discussions with partners to invest in Asia. Both satellites are targeted at broadcasters and some telecommunications services. Es'hail-3, if we succeed with investments, will not be for video or TV; the current trend is for in-flight connectivity because passengers want to be connected. We need to have global covaerage for this in order to cover the entire flight route, including oceans. Owning the satellite would be best, though partnerships will likely be the way to go.

What are some constraints to your ambitions?

Our constraints are the limitations of frequencies. For any satellite operator to succeed, it needs money and the spectrum. Es'hailSat is fine financially, though the spectrum is the problem. The Qatar Satellite Company was established seven years ago, considerably later than other entities in the region. All the frequencies and orbital locations were taken by giant operators, so it did not have the space. To invest, we need the frequency, which is why we must complement our business with partnerships with companies that already have the spectrum.

What was the goal of attending Satellite 2018 in Washington DC?

It was all about networking. Our entire focus is on launching Es'hail-2 and completing our ground station in northern Qatar. We have another megaproject ongoing to build our own teleport.

In what ways are you developing Qatari capabilities with the high-tech sector?

This is something that is underlined in the Qatar Vision 2030. We are supporting and contributing to the vision by building capabilities and hiring Qataris. The satellite industry is still new in Qatar, and thus we are short in the skillset. This is why we have had Qatari engineers attached with the manufacturers during the construction of Es'hail-1 and Es'hail-2. We also have some synergies with Qatar University's engineering department. Similarly, we have started some discussions with universities that have plans to establish a space center. There are many foreigners here working in these positions, and the goal is not necessary to replace them, but to complement them. Young Qataris are extremely excited about the opportunities. It is an exciting time for our company and country.

Has the blockade affected your business?

It has positively affected our business, which was unexpected. At present, there are four main satellite operators in the region: Nilesat, Yahsat, Arabsat, and Es'hailSat. In the past, Qatari broadcasters had the freedom to choose between these operators; however, when the blockade occurred, local broadcasters shifted their business to us. This has inspired a great deal of confidence in our satellite and quality of service. As a result, 95% of Qatari channels are on Es'hailSat, meaning we are operating at full capacity, which is why we look forward to the launch of our second satellite.