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ABS to double in size

Mohamed Youssif, ABS’ COO and President/MD of its MENA operatio,n said the satellite operator continues on what he described as a fast-track growth and expansion trajectory.  “We launched the business in 2006 and we now have 7 satellites in the fleet, and have reported around 30 per cent growth y-o-y during that time.”

Investment fund Permira is a majority owner of ABS via its Ace Investments 1 fund, and bought into the business in November 2010. ABS staff now totals more than 200.

“We are now configuring two new satellites, one of which will be a replacement and expansion craft for ABS-7 and provide our version of HTS which we are calling an Ultra-High Throughput Satellite!  We firmly believe that really high throughput is best achieved in Ku-band rather than Ka-band. Our footprints cover regions that are famous for rainfall so we prefer to be prepared,” added Youssif.

“Then we’ll have ABS-8 which will orbit at 116 deg East, and looking at Asia and again with HTS functionality. It will carry multiple spot beams, steerable beams, and a wide beam overlay to give us ultimate flexibility. We know that most of our traffic occurs within 50 miles or so of the uplink gateway, so spot beams are perfect for this sort of functionality. Traffic can stay within the spot beam if it is suitable, or else use the wide beam, depending on their target audience.”

Youssif has been in post for less than 2 years, and in that period the operator has appointed similar operational heavyweights to supervise expansion over Africa, South Asia, and the Americas.

Their latest craft is ABS-3A , launched in early March, and this is now quietly making its way to orbit using its ‘all electric’ ION thrusters. The launch was flawless, with a high injection point which might shave a month or so from the slow orbit raising task. “In 6 months or so we should be in position,” said Youssif.

“The good thing is that ABS-3A is 45 per cent sold, and within the next 5-6 months we intend to boost that percentage, perhaps as high as 65 per cent. This is our philosophy.  Place an older satellite into position, and win custom. Then place a dedicated satellite into the slot. It is a philosophy that has worked very well. Remember that out of the complete fleet only ABS-2 was the first that was brand new to us, and which we designed and purchased and launched”.

Youssif explains that a new orbital spot is being developed at 16 deg West to serve Africa and the Americas. “We are configuring another craft specifically for that slot with C-Band, Ku and Ka.  We are having discussions with multiple anchor clients as to their expectations, and issued an RFI to a number of the usual satellite vendors and hope to confirm an order during Q4 this year, for delivery in late-2017/early 2018 in about 24 months.”

This is not to say that there has not been a problem or two. The major hiccup occurred following on from the launch of ABS-2 (launched February 2014) which suffered a beam problem in orbit and is the subject of a major insurance claim. Youssif said the beam affected Russian clients, all of which were reinstated.  We also went immediately to Boeing in order to modify the satellite under construction (ABS-2A) so that we would have greater flexibility. This cost some cash but it is worth it in the long run to keep customers happy.  ABS-2A will back up and provide expansion capacity at 75 degrees East.  “This is a prime orbital position for us but it will also provide redundancy for ABS-2. We can then switch off the problem ABS-2 beam which ABS-2A will then carry out.”

Youssif said the dialogue with the ABS-2 insurers had gone well and was likely to be concluded soon. “There are no big issues remaining.”

The future fleet will be near-global, adds Youssif, “and that includes the Pacific. This is because we have moved ABS-1, and which we now call ABS-6, to 159 deg East, and this is the main reason why we now like to refer to ourselves as ‘ABS’ and no longer use the ‘Asia’ name. We are much, much more than just Asia, important though the region is to us. One way and another ABS is doubling its capacity over the next 3 years. We want to be on that stage in Washington as part of the future Big 4, and we enjoy great support from our shareholders. Their demand is simple: grow, grow, grow”, he said.

“We will continue to compete year on year and find new ways to compete and satisfy our clients. The whole industry, at best, is growing at about 4-5 per cent per annum. Our target is 30 per cent growth, and we intend to meet that target, and if it means taking market share then that’s what we will do. If buying an all-electric or hybrid satellite allows a low-cost launch then we will also pass that on to our customers.”

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