SATELLITES OVER SAUDI

Saudi Arabia 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Khalid A. Balkheyour, President & CEO of Arab Satellite Communications Organization (ARABSAT), on establishing the company, the Saudi telecoms sector, and goals for 2016.

Khalid A. Balkheyour
BIOGRAPHY
Khalid A. Balkheyour graduated from California State Polytechnic University Pomona with a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1981. He has 25 years of experience in the telecommunication field, starting with the Saudi Ministry of PTT, later known as Saudi Telecommunication Company (STC). He previously served as the Vice President of Operations and Maintenance. Balkheyour has held the position of Executive Vice President for Marketing and Sales in Lucent Technologies, formerly known as AT&T, from 1999 to 2003. In May 2003, he was selected to head the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (ARABSAT).

What was the significance of the establishment of ARABSAT?

ARABSAT was formed by all Arab countries in the 1970s, with the primary purpose of connecting the Arab world through satellite telecommunications technology and linking these countries culturally. Each country initially contributed financially, with 100% of the shareholders represented by governments of the Arab world. Saudi Arabia has the majority, with over 36%, followed by Kuwait with over 14%, and then Libya, Qatar, and the UAE. The rest of the region makes up the remainder of ownership shares, the minimum of which stands at about 0.5%. The first satellite was launched in 1985, and during the 1990s the concept of providing telecoms service has been changed from only providing basic voice calling to broadcasting, and developed into broadband, internet connectivity, and other forms of data and voice telecommunications. Although there are ample fiber optics systems installed in the ground and the sea across the MENA region, there are also other satellite operators serving the Arab world, but we are the only provider who offers all spectrum of services to every Arab country, including broadcast, telecoms, broadband, and point-to-point.

How would you describe ARABSAT's commitment to technology?

ARABSAT is the major satellite operator in the region and, in order to keep our competitive marketing position, it is continuously developing its resources and capabilities to follow up with all technical trends and developments in the satellite business industry. That is why all our satellites and control stations are designed and built according to up-to-date technical standards and provide our customers within the region with up-to-date services and coverage in different bands so that they can enjoy all flexibilities that our satellites have. We provide added value and support services to let our customers enjoy full options and various alternatives including special and differential levels of engineering and monitored 24/7 services, geo location services to identify any international or unintentional interference or jamming, full back-up capabilities for our TV broadcasting services at 26 E, diverse orbital positions and coverages including Ka band spots, and hosted payloads for high throughput streams.

How do you assess the telecoms sector in Saudi Arabia?

The telecoms sector in Saudi Arabia is well developed and is considered as one of our major markets in terms of mobile and basic telephone services and broadband. Saudi Arabia is one of the most advanced countries in terms of telecommunications services, both from satellites and landline perspectives. Most of the populated portion of the country is covered by basic telecoms services. The government is putting a number of programs in place to serve the more remote areas of the Kingdom. We entered the market by contributing to this provision of satellite services. The sector is mature and well regulated by licenses. Investors can get involved in providing value-added services, but not for basic infrastructure.

What are your goals for ARABSAT in 2016?

The economic situation is difficult this year; however, we have been in a similar situation before, and the satellite business always continues to grow. We expect growth of between 5% and 6%, but our focus will be more on strategic alliances with partners, customers, and service providers. Many partnership agreements have been signed and the design of two of our three new satellites that are currently under manufacturing are based on such partnerships. Our agreements with these customers and partners are to deliver the technology; however, ARABSAT will launch, manage, and operate the satellites. We might have the opportunity to build another one or two satellites with partners going forward, and we believe that this model of sharing projects is advantageous to us because it reduces risk and funding requirements on our part. It also strengthens our relationships with other parties, and gives us more leverage to expand outside the area we are focusing on in 2016.