Europe’s SES group, which operates a worldwide fleet of more than 40 communications satellites, is establishing a bigger presence in SA ahead of the launch later this year of a new, high-capacity satellite to serve the region.
The satellite, SES-5 — which will be launched on a Proton rocket in Kazakhstan in the fourth quarter of this year — will have 18 transponders and will provide additional capacity to On Digital Media (ODM), owner of TopTV, as well as other regional broadcasters.
The company, which is a direct competitor to IntelSat, is recruiting staff to head up its expanded SA office.
SES-5 is one of two satellites SES, which is based in Luxembourg, is launching this year that will serve African markets.
The second, SES-4, will provide satellite television services to French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa and is being launched in the second quarter.
Together, the SES-4 and SES-5 satellites will cost €1bn, underlining the growth potential the Luxembourg-based company sees on the continent, especially in satellite TV.
“Our board of directors decided a couple of years ago to invest heavily in Africa, says Christoph Limmer, senior director for market development and marketing in Africa at SES. “We believe Africa and South-East Asia will offer the biggest growth opportunities for us.”
SES’s biggest market is Europe, where, for example, it provides television services into 37m German homes (both directly and indirectly). That’s 99% of the German pay-TV market.
Limmer says the SES-5 satellite will treble the capacity available in the orbital slot it will be launched into. This will allow ODM, which uses SES’s older, six-transponder Astra 4A satellite, to offer high-definition broadcasts for the first time.
ODM CEO Vino Govender recently disclosed in an interview with TechCentral that the broadcaster will launch HD channels on the TopTV bouquet by the end of 2011 on the back of the upgraded satellite capacity. It also plans to offer an HD personal video recorder.
Limmer says SES is seeing growing demand for satellite capacity across the continent. In West Africa, France’s Canal+ has signed up more than 300 000 subscribers in French-speaking markets such as the Ivory Coast and Senegal, with plans to expand to French-speaking Central Africa.
There is also strong growth in English-speaking West Africa where consumers are snapping up decoders from private Nigerian and Ghanaian broadcasters, Limmer says. In East Africa, SES has signed an agreement with the Wananchi Group, which wants to provide triple-play services — Internet, pay-TV and telephony — to Kenya and other markets in the region. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral