x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Yahsat launching into broadband

Abu Dhabi's Yahsat is set to commence satellite-broadband services starting at $20 a month, following the launch of its second spacecraft early on Tuesday morning. 

A Proton-M carrier rocket with the Yahsat 1B telecommunications satellite aboard, blasts off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome. AFP
A Proton-M carrier rocket with the Yahsat 1B telecommunications satellite aboard, blasts off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome. AFP

Yahsat plans to begin commercial broadband services by October after Tuesday's launch of its second satellite.

The Abu Dhabi-owned company has signed up 30 partnersto resell Yahsat's internet services to consumers and businesses in various countries. The partners will sell broadband subscriptions starting at the equivalent of US$20 (Dh73) a month, Yahsat says.

Internet connections will be beamed via Yahsat's second satellite, dubbed Y1B, which was sent into orbit at 2.18am Abu Dhabi time on Tuesday.

The satellite - lifted into space atop a rocket launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan - is being manoeuvred into its correct position 36,000km above Earth. It will be used for UAE Government purposes, as well as the commercial YahClick broadband service.

Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, the chief executive of Yahsat, said the satellite broadband service would be available in more than 28 countries this year.

"We will be available in the market at the end of September or early October with the YahClick product," he said. "The consumer packages … will be starting at $20 a month."

Satellite internet service requires an antenna and terminal, but not the fixed cable infrastructure common in the urban centres of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. That means it is especially suited for use in rural areas or places with unreliable internet connections.

The $20 monthly fee will be for the slowest connection, and will not include the cost of the satellite receiver and other hardware, which can cost $400 to $800, Mr Al Hosani said.

Yahsat's 30 service partners will sell satellite internet packages in the Middle East, Africa and south-western Asia.

The partners include the mobile phone retailer Axiom, the Omani telecommunications company Nawras, and the South African operator Vox Telepreneur, said Mr Al Hosani.

"We have 30 [service providers], with an initial commitment of 61,000 terminals," he said. "In markets like Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, South Africa, we believe we will hit the maximum capacity within three years," he added.

Yahsat is a subsidiary of Mubadala Development, a strategic investment company owned by the Abu Dhabi Government.

Its first satellite, dubbed Y1A, blasted into orbit in April last year from Kourou, French Guiana, in what was Abu Dhabi's first venture in the satellite industry. Yahsat's total investment so far is Dh7 billion.

The two satellites provide a mix of government, military, TV and commercial applications.

Mr Al Hosani declined to give details on the likely return on investment but said Yahsat was performing well commercially.

"We are slightly ahead of our business plan. And we think we will be generating better revenues than expected," he said.

He added that Yahsat was evaluating the feasibility of a third satellite after the launch of Y1B.

"Before the end of the year, we will have a decision to go or not to go for a third satellite," he said.

Mr Al Hosani attended the launch of Y1B in Kazakhstan, which blasted off aboard a rocket operated by International Launch Services, based in the United States.

Nine hours after the launch, the satellite, which weighs 6,000kg, was released from the rocket and is expected to reach its final orbital position late next week, after which testing will commence.

Given the risks of the process, the launch of Y1B was a tense time for Yahsat, Mr Al Hosani said.

"It was a crazy feeling of sheer happiness, and at the same time worrying about 'is it safe yet? Is it safe yet?'," he said. "We didn't need coffee - we had enough adrenalin and excitement in the air to keep us awake."

bflanagan@thenational.ae

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