The “Azercosmos” has been operating for several years in the competitive global satellite broadcasting market and in Ukraine, where it has to compete with global satellite operators. The “Mediasat” talked to Dan Radu, Chief Commercial Officer at “Azercosmos”, who spoke about the operator’s activities on the international stage, plans for Ukraine and a global development strategy for the next few years.
– Please, tell us about the history of establishing “Azercosmos”, its investors and the role in the development of the Azerbaijani telecom business.
The Open Joint Stock Company “Azercosmos” was set up on 3 May 2010, and it is the single satellite operator in the Caucasus region. The “Azercosmos” is a national project of Azerbaijan, aimed at diversifying economy due to developing the non-oil sector and transforming the country into an information bridge between East and West. Today, this strategic goal is achieved thanks to the far-sighted leadership of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Mr. Ilham Aliyev. The creation of the space industry and the launch of telecommunication satellites into orbit have a particular strategic importance in removing dependence on receiving information from foreign countries and ensuring information security of Azerbaijan.
The telecommunication satellite “Azerspace-1” operated by the “Azercosmos” provides highly reliable radio broadcasting services and broadband solutions to its customers in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Caucasus, as well as Central Asia. The satellite with a 15-year minimal service life was put into orbit on 8 February 2013. The implementation of the “Azerspace-1” Project not only strengthened the importance of Azerbaijan as a leading satellite player in the region, but also allowed all TV and radio channels of Azerbaijan to broadcast via own domestic satellite.
– What kinds of services does the “Azercosmos” provide to its customers?
As a satellite operator, the “Azercosmos” provides corporate and government customers with satellite communication services for DTH, voice, video, data and mobile applications. A convenient orbital position of “Azerspace-1” (46° east longitude) allows us to be competitive in this industry and meet our customers’ needs. Our technical capabilities of an experienced regional satellite operator make us an ideal partner for meeting vital and daily needs of satellite communications.
In 2014, we signed an agreement on strategic cooperation with the Airbus Defense and Space, thereby getting the control and commercialization of the high-resolution Earth remote sensing satellite “Spot-7”, under the current name of “Azersky”. This agreement heralded the “Azercosmos”’s entry into the commercial business of providing Earth remote sensing services, including the geoinformation ones.
– How many communication satellites are actually at the “Azercosmos”’s disposal, and in what orbital positions are they located?
“Azerspace-1”, as I has mentioned above, is located in the slot of 46°E, and this is the first satellite of the “Azercosmos”. It is equipped with C- and K-band transponders.
This year, the “Azercosmos” plans to launch “Azerspace-2”, which will offer advanced capabilities to support growing needs in the region for DTH, government and network services, currently supported by “Azerspace-1”.
The new satellite will be put in the orbital position of 45°E, leased from the Intelsat Company, which also acts as a lessee of satellite resources. The orbital position of “Azerspace-2” (45°E) will be located only in one degree from the current orbital position of “Azerspace-1” (46°E), so it creates good opportunities for existing as well as new customers to expand actual satellite solutions.
The coverage area for “Azerspace-2” also was a key factor, since it covers Azerbaijan, many European countries, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The market of satellite telecom services has become a very active market segment, and as soon as “Azerspace-2” starts operating and generating revenue, the “Azercosmos” will be ready to evaluate mutually beneficial strategic partnership relations.
– Please, tell us a bit more about cooperation with the Intelsat.
In 2015, the world’s leading provider of satellite services Intelsat and “Azercosmos” signed a strategic agreement on the orbital position of 45 degrees east longitude. The two companies have been cooperating closely in designing the satellite “Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38”, using their potential and capabilities at the construction and operation stages of the project implementation.
The new satellite will provide uninterruptible services to the satellite Intelsat-12, currently located in the slot of 45 degrees east longitude, the orbital position of which hosts the direct access platforms (DTH) and offers an option to connect corporate network services in Africa. The new satellite Intelsat-38 will also provide its services in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
– Tell us about satellite construction. What companies do you cooperate with? What is the core platform for designing your satellites?
“Azerspace-1” was constructed by the US company Orbital Sciences Corporation on the basis of the satellite platform “Star-2”.
Our second telecommunication satellite “Azerspace-2” is currently under construction by another US company Space Systems/Loral (SSL). The satellite will be launched by the end of this year on the platform SSL-1300.
– Which of the companies is your key partner to put satellites into orbit?
“Azerspace-1” was launched by an ultra-reliable launch vehicle Ariane-5, which belongs to the French company Arianespace. We also signed an agreement with Arianespace on launching the second telecommunication satellite Azerspace-2.
The high-resolution Earth remote sensing satellite “Azersky” (images of 1.5 m) was launched into orbit by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on 30 June 2014, using a PSLV launcher.
– How many TV and radio channels broadcast via “Azerspace-1”? Which countries and territories are covered by “Azerspace-1”’’s service area? What part of the capacity is already used?
For the time being, over 30 commercial TV and 16 radio channels have been broadcasting via “Azerspace-1” in Azerbaijani, Ukrainian, Turkish and Georgian languages. “Azarspace-1” plays a core role in more than 50 countries of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Today, over 70% of “Azerspace-1”’s resources remain in commercial use.
– In addition to the traditional services of TV and radio broadcasting and data transmission, “Azerspace-1” also provides government communications. Please, tell us more about it.
The progress of our technical capabilities not only allows for strengthening country’s economic competitiveness, but also ensures an effective implementation of government projects and reliable data transmission between shore and offshore channels via “Azerspace-1”.
During the first European Games held in Baku in 2015, the “Azercosmos” officially supported and played a key role in broadcasting that event to billions of TV viewers all over Europe and the world. We will also provide satellite communications during the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games, i.e. multi-sport competitions to be held in Baku from May 12 to 22, 2017.
Moreover, we provide integral solutions for the Ministry of Internal Affairs; we support satellite communications between Baku and Nakhchivan. At present, we have been cooperating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide reliable satellite communication between the Ministry and embassies and consulates of Azerbaijan in foreign countries.
– What is the purpose for sharing the orbital position of 46° east longitude with the Malaysian company “Measat Satellite Systems”?
We agreed with the leading Malaysian satellite operator “Measat Satellite Systems” on the lease of the geostationary position of 46°E and joint control over the satellite “Azerspace-1”. The “Measat Satellite Systems” also supported the “Azercosmos” in implementing the “Azerspace-1” Project, including staff development and exchange of experience in the satellite industry.
– Please, tell us about the low Earth-orbiting satellites “Azersky” and “Spot”. What are their main functions and what is the “Azercosmos”’s role in their control?
In December 2014, the “Azercosmos” signed an agreement on strategic cooperation with the Airbus Defense & Space, taking over the operation and commercialization of the high-resolution Earth remote sensing satellite “Spot-7” (1.5 m), launched into orbit on 30 June 2014. The long-term strategic cooperation between the two parties also provides for joint control over “Azersky” (“Azercosmos”) and the Earth optical imaging satellite “Spot-6” (Airbus Defense and Space), which all together would ensure both parties to get high-quality services. The combined potential for receiving images from “Azersky” and “Spot-6” is six million square kilometers per day, which means that every point on the globe can be watched daily at high resolution.
The joint satellite group of “Azercosmos” and Airbus Defense and Space opens the door to many applications due to providing recent images in an unprecedented timeframe. “Azersky” has a wide range of applications like protection and security, emergency response, natural resources research, maritime surveillance, marine navigation, environmental protection, urban planning, cartography, agriculture and tourism, among others.
– Why was the Space Systems/Loral selected to construct “Azerspace-2”? What date is scheduled for its launch into orbit?
The Space Systems/Loral (SSL) is the leading supplier of commercial satellites and it was selected by the “Azercosmos” to provide satellite systems and control systems for the “Azerspace-2” Project due to its lasting successful cooperation with satellite operators. We scheduled satellite launching by the end of 2017.
– What capabilities will the new satellite have? Is it of interest to Ukraine?
“Azerspace-2” will be the second telecommunication satellite of the “Azercosmos”, aimed at expanding current capabilities of “Azerspace-1”. It will support the growing demand for DTH, government and network services in Europe, Central and South Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. This new satellite will provide the “Azercosmos” with additional potential for the growing demand in the region and will allow providing best services to the “Azercosmos”’s customers, including Ukraine.
– Where is the “Azercosmos”’s head office? How many employees does the company have? How did you shape your staff and find professionals?
The “Azercosmos”’s head office is located in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Since its establishment, the “Azercosmos” has paid great attention to local staff training, because the space industry was new for Azerbaijan. There are various training programs for the “Azercosmos” to rise the qualification of its professionals. At the first stage, the “Azercosmos”’s employees were trained by our partners like the Orbital Sciences and the Measat Satellite Systems.
They also completed training programs at famous training centers, universities, production facilities, and residential quoters of existing satellite operators in UK, China and Germany in order to receive theoretical and practical training.
Today, these employees share their knowledge with the next generation of engineers and operators through in-plant trainings, and we consider this method the most adequate one. Along with the development of our staff’s skills, we also pay special attention to the development of their social skills like leadership, communication and team building proficiency, negotiation and presentation skills, project management and business ethics.
When selecting staff, we primarily assess the social skills and personal characteristics of an applicant, and then his professional background, because we are looking for employees dedicated to their mission. We appreciate the willingness to push own boundaries and the teamwork ability. That is how we shape our staff. When the company started, we had less than a dozen employees. Today, the “Azercosmos” accounts for nearly 130 employees.
– Where is the Satellite Control Center? How does it operate?
All satellite commands and control are carried out on a 24-hour basis by local specialists at the Master satellite ground control station in the Absheron District of Azerbaijan. The Reserve Satellite Ground Control station is located in the Nakhchivan District of Azerbaijan and it is an alternate station in the event of a failure of the master one.
– Please, tell us about the “Azercosmos”’s teleport. Which are its basic capabilities?
Our teleport is in Baku. Its resources and capabilities allow receiving signal via intermediary satellites, metronet and fiber-optic networks. We can provide channels in Ku-band to Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, and in C-band to Africa.
We can also provide value-added services from our teleport as follows:
- “Earth-Satellite” transmission services.
- Rebroadcasting services.
- Buying satellite content.
- Video data distribution.
- Video contribution.
- Virtual network operator.
- Internet connection.
Moreover, to save on delivering signal to the teleport, we can offer services via the teleport of our partner in Europe. If our customers require some consultation on a teleport technical solution, our support specialists are always available to help.
– Do you have any call-center to support customers who can make various inquiries about the services you provide?
Yes, the “Azercosmos” has a customer support service to receive and answer various questions regarding our services in English, Russian, Turkish and Azerbaijani. The “Azercosmos”’s Payload and Network Operations Center (PNOC) offers our customers a high-quality operational support. Our PNOC is a touch point for all our customers; we employ experienced, trained and competent engineers, who are able to cope with any situation, including dejamming and debugging (space and ground segments).
PNOC engineers are well experienced in developing innovative satellite networks and are able to provide technical support to network providers. PNOC offers integral video solutions, periodic use orders, complete-cycle services, quick satellite access for urgent requests. Our hotline +994 12 565 00 65 is available for 24 hours 365 days a year. As for customer support, our motto is an individual perfection, which implies providing individual quality services to each customer.
– What regions are of your particular interest to cooperate? Which events do you participate in?
One of the “Azercosmos”’s strategic missions over the past period was to gain the satellite communications leadership in Azerbaijan. For us, 2015 was the year when we became the exclusive provider of satellite services to all TV channels in Azerbaijan, and in the same year we increased the volume of periodic satellite capacity lease in our domestic market, in Georgia and Turkey. Most of our satellite “Azerspace-1” is now commercialized, and the client base accounts for more than 19 countries, including customers from Turkey, Russia, Georgia, UAE, Germany, UK, Ukraine and other countries.
Every year, the “Azercosmos” takes part in major events like CABSAT (the largest digital media and satellite communications event in the Middle East and Africa); IBC (the annual exhibition for broadcasters, content producers/providers); AfricaCom (the telecommunication, technical and ICT conference); as well as some other events.
– Is the Ukrainian market interesting to the “Azercosmos”? How does it differ from other countries?
A large number of TV channels with diverse and interesting content are the main feature of the Ukrainian television market. These channels can be watched either via satellite broadcasting or cable TV operators. There are more than 120 TV channels and their number goes on growing every year. Many of these TV channels broadcast via satellites, and the rest ones express their willingness to start satellite broadcasting. The “Azercosmos” is extremely interested in meeting this growing demand.
– Please, tell us about your cooperation with the Ukrkosmos.
The commercial cooperation with the Ukrkosmos started almost immediately after launching the satellite “Azerspace-1” and the broadcasts of six Ukrainian TV channels via our satellite in late 2013. This cooperation continues up to now and implies good friendly relations. Indeed, we should mention the “Ukrkosmos”’s role in promoting the “Azercosmos” on the Ukrainian TV market.
– What are the areas of interest in Ukraine? Which segment of services occupies the largest part in the company’s activities in general and in Ukraine? What are you going to develop first?
As a satellite communications company, it is very important for us to create an effective base that will allow us to be present on the Ukrainian TV market. As mentioned above, there observed a growing demand for broadcasting services. This is a priority for us. We do our best to gain our market share.