London — African countries will need satellite help to meet the ITU's 2015 digital switchover deadline.
With only two years left to switch to digital TV, it is highly unlikely that the 2015 ITU Goal will be reached across the continent without the help of satellite broadcast. Sylvain Béletre talked to Aymeric Genty, Sales Director at Eutelsat for France, West and Central Africa who has high expectations on the African broadcast TV market. According to Genty, the technology is ready for any country in Africa to switch to digital TV across its whole territory.
What is Eutelsat's strategy in Africa?
Firstly, we are investing in new satellites: 29 out of the 30 Eutelsat satellites are concentrated on a geostationary arc between the 15° West and 70° East orbital positions which enables us to develop concerted major expansion programmes that optimise investment and synergies across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Of our 30 satellites, 8 offer a wide coverage of Africa and excellent intercontinental links between Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Six out of seven satellites that we are about to launch will accelerate digitization and security over the African continent.
Through our 3-year investment programme between mid 2012 to mid-2015, we will increase our resources over Africa and the Indian Ocean by 50%.
This includes the two satellites successfully launched in autumn 2012 and three under construction for launch before mid 2015. This multiplication of satellites enables us to offer stronger transmission, back up and security for our clients and to increase innovative, efforts, especially for broadband internet.
How is Eutelsat positioned on the broadcast front in Africa?
We have witnessed strong growth on the broadcast front over the last 15 years in this diverse continent. Each country is in a different stage of development. Eutelsat launched its first high-power satellite for broadcast services in sub-Saharan Africa in 2000 and since then we have built up a solid knowledge of the region and the key players.
On video services, we are a leading player when it comes to TV broadcast in Africa and in the Indian Ocean. We believe that there is an opportunity for additional competitively-priced TV platforms accessible to the largest audience and we work with both international and local TV networks to help digital terrestrial TV (DTT) to become a reality by the ITU's 2015 deadline.
TV broadcasting represents a larger share than our telecoms activities on the continent and has grown well over the past few years: In 2011, the number of television channels broadcast by our satellites in Africa rose by 18% to almost 700 of the 4250 TV channels that we distribute globally.
In other words, our fleet broadcasts more than 50% of the 1,300 satellite television channels present over Africa. We serve this market through five orbital positions, the first of which 36° East, has just passed the 300 TV channel mark.
Since 1998, broadcast TV in Africa is a segment where in which we have massively invested and we are building a real digital TV backbone above the continent.
Which TV players are you supporting in Africa?
Our longstanding presence positions us to know the key players and regulators well. We have been the platform of choice for MultiChoice over large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. More recently, we have also supported StarTimes, in its digital TV deployment.
We have also contributed to the launch of leading TV platforms such as ZAP and the French language CanalSat, France Télévision's hybrid DTT platform, Parabole Réunion and la TV d'Orange in the Indian Ocean.
How do you envision the future of the African broadcast market?
According to a new report from Digital TV Research, digital TV penetration will rocket to 95.5% by 2018 - with household numbers quadrupling to 49 million. Two-thirds of television homes will take DTT -pay and free-to-air combined- in 2018, up from only 11.7% at end-2012. Sub-Saharan Africa will have 34 million DTT homes by 2018 - 25.7 million FTA and 8.0 million pay-TV - up from 4.6 million in total at end 2012.
In parallel to the sustained dynamic of pay-TV platforms, we see the emergence of digital terrestrial television (DTT) players. While DTT is making progress, investment in this technology is expensive and time to market can delay nationwide coverage due to a combination of large and sparsely populated markets and lack of infrastructure investments.
We can come as a complement to ensure full geographic coverage of digital TV solutions. We supported the first initiatives with the StarTimes service launched in 2010 from our 10° East and 5° West positions in C-band which carries almost 100 television channels.
Dynamic countries in Africa including Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya have announced their intention to move all their public television services to digital by the end of 2015. Our aim is to offer our resources and experience to support these schemes in order to ensure a seamless transition by feeding DTT transmitters and enabling direct satellite reception for communities beyond range of terrestrial.
Pay TV services are currently dominated by DTH operators throughout Africa and we believe the dimension of the African market is such that there is also room for new pay TV platforms which can come as a complement to free digital TV.
According to the report from Digital TV Research, there were 7.36 million pay DTH subscribers by end-2012, with the total expected to rise to 11.27 million in 2018. Excluding South Africa, the number of pay DTH households will double between 2012 and 2018 to reach 6 million
We are also active on the broadband front. In 2012, we launched technical solutions for the development of satellite-based triple-play services that we believe can propel the penetration of digital services in Africa and in the Indian Ocean.
In May 2012 we opened "IP Easy", an Internet service platform for the general public using the African coverage of the EUTELSAT 16A satellite. IP Easy is a platform that telecoms operators can easily bundle with the reception of television channels to extend their offers and generate new revenue streams. Right now, "Afrique Telecom" is the main reseller of IP Easy.
What about telecoms services? How are you serving telecoms operators in Africa?
In the market for data services, we believe that the expansion of underwater cables will boost the whole telecoms sector and with it, the volumes of satellite links. Broadband access will become a key driver for us.
Will fibre optic cables rolled out across the African continent represent some sort of competition for Eutelsat and other satellite carriers?
I believe that it is essential to understand the difference between the highly populated coastal areas of Africa and islands in the Indian Ocean where new fibre cables are arriving, and the considerable market in the rest of countries where satellite is often the only broadband access technology available for businesses and the interconnection of local networks.
Which telecoms services and clients do you serve on the telecoms front? Is that a growing part of your business?
Less developed than in other continents, the number of VSAT terminals in sub-Saharan Africa is rising steadily by more than 10% each year. This growth is fuelled by the Oil and Gas sector and the demand for government services. In these two markets Eutelsat works with some of the top operators, like Harris CapRock, France Télécom/Orange, Liquid Telecom, Hermes Datacoms and Vizada/Astrium Services.
Other drivers are contributing to growth in demand for satellite data services, in particular from banking sector. The recent growth of large African enterprises with international reach and the flood of multinationals coming to Africa are also putting the wide international coverage of our satellites to good use.
Do you feel the Vsat segment will continue to grow at the same rate?
Excluding the antennas installed on GSM transmitters which form an important part of satellite services in Africa, the number of VSAT terminals is expected, according to Euroconsult, to rise from 65,000 today to more than 230,000 by 2021, equivalent to a doubling of the number every five years. This prospective growth is one of the highest in the world and reinforces our sustained programme of investment for Africa and the Indian Ocean.
What are the next stages of your in-orbit expansion programme?
We are reinforcing capacity for the development of business in Africa. We have just successfully launched the EUTELSAT 21B and EUTELSAT 70B satellites. Equipped with 40 transponders, EUTELSAT 21B increases our resources at 21° East by 30%. It has also enabled us to open a broad new beam over North-West Africa combined with interconnection resources with Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
EUTELSAT 70B more than doubles the capacity at 70.5° East at the intersection of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Unique in its kind, it carries 48 transponders connected to four beams offering unique interconnection between these four continents.
Three other satellites with wide coverage of Africa are under construction for launches between now and mid 2015. This should have immediate impact upon capacity and service delivery, with better signals and operators able to offer enhanced solutions to customers across the region.