Yahsat to offer consumer broadband services

Satellite broadband packages will be "competitive" with prices starting at $30 in some markets, says Yahsat executive.

Satellite broadband believes its time has come.

The Abu Dhabi satellite company Yahsat will offer consumer broadband services that it says will be "competitive", with monthly subscription prices starting at US$30 (Dh110), a senior executive at the company says.

Satellite broadband has historically been priced higher than consumer internet packages provided via telephone networks, known as a digital subscriber line (DSL) connections.

Yahsat previously said basic satellite internet packages would start at $40 a month, but charges could be as low as $30 in some markets, said Shawkat Ahmed, the chief commercial officer at Yahsat.

"We are targeting price points of our basic services to start at $40. It could be lower in some markets, such as in Africa. It could be around $30," said Mr Ahmed. "For the first time in this region, we will be providing satellite broadband at prices that will be comparable to DSL."

Commercial internet services will begin after the launch of Yahsat's second satellite at the end of this year. Satellite-internet packages will be sold by Yahsat's partners in each of the 25 countries in which the internet service will be available - markets across the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia.

"We will be offering broadband in 25 countries, with a population of more than 1 billion people," said Mr Ahmed. "We will be deciding on the price points and marketing with the local service providers."

Matthew Reed, an analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, said satellite internet "has generally been regarded as more expensive".

Such technology works best in rural areas where cable-internet infrastructure is not available, he said.

"It's generally expected that satellite is a technology that is used when other options are not available," said Mr Reed. "I expect [Yahsat] to be targeting less-developed areas."

Mr Ahmed said that while the focus for satellite broadband is on "unserved and underserved areas", Yahsat's partners would also market the service in urban areas such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

"We are not limiting ourselves to rural areas," he said. "If prices are competitive, you may want to switch to satellite broadband because you get better customer service or get better reliability."

Mr Ahmed said the receivers required to pick up consumer satellite-broadband services cost about $350.

The receivers, as well as four ground stations that communicate with the satellite, will be provided by the broadband satellite provider Hughes Network Systems.

Soheil Mehrabanzad, the assistant vice president for the Middle East and Africa region at Hughes Network Systems, said satellite broadband could be priced to be competitive even with cable connections provided by companies such as Etisalat and du.

"In the UAE, all of us are paying at least $80 a month," he said.

Mr Mehrabanzad added that Hughes Network Systems would build four ground stations - in the UAE, Greece, Luxembourg and Spain - to support Yahsat's satellite internet service.

Internet services in the Gulf region have frequently been disrupted when undersea internet cables have been severed. Satellite users would not be affected by such a problem, Mr Mehrabanzad said.