General Satellite Corporation Ready to Put Money on the Table for DTH TV in Africa

Russian-owned General Satellite Corporation threw its hat into the ring to become a contender in the race to provide a credible DTH Free-To-Air satellite service across the continent. Others are in the wings and so this will be a race to watch over the next 12-18 months. Balancing Act’s Sylvain Beletre talks to General Satellite Corporation’s Head of Project Management Ms Polina Potapova about looking for joint ventures with African companies to realise its plans.The back-drop to the interest in DTH Free-To-Air broadcasting is the shift to digital amongst Africa’s terrestrial broadcasters. The deadline for this shift has been agreed as 2015. DTH Free-To-Air delivery offers two potential benefits for the digital transition process. It can offer another national channel for delivery as satellite signals can cover the whole of a country. However, you trade cheaper capital investment (CAPEX) against the need to buy satellite signal on an on-going basis (OPEX). Thus far, none of the early adopters on the continent have really discussed this option.

But even if it is not seen as an alternative to terrestrial delivery, DTH Free-To-Air satellite can deliver universal access and reach those places where it is hard to justify terrestrial equipment. A number of African broadcasters already use satellite in this way. In this context, General Satellite Corporation believes that there will be ways in which it can help with the digital transition on the content, either through digital or terrestrial means.

Q: General Satellite Corporation is not really know in Africa so could you start by explaining what the company does?

A: It was established 20 years ago and is a Russian research and production company, supplying domestic and international markets with hi-tech radio-electronic equipment, which specifications meet the highest standards.

In the TV field, it builds STBs (set- top box) or ‘TV decoders’ as they are commonly Know. Right now, it runs the leading DTH provider in Russia with about 8 million households.The company has a rich experience in running complex digital TV projects. Digital television can be a real information portal, providing access to internet sites, information related to e-commerce, e-education and telemedicines and it can be easily accessible to everybody.
General Satellite carries out development projects in the following areas: Satellite decoders, Cable decoders, Terrestrial decoders, IP set-top-boxes, Specialized software and hardware solutions such as Service-oriented Middleware, Conditional Access Systems (CAS), EPG (Electronic Program Guide), and other value-added services.

We also produce 11 SD, HD and 3D television interesting niche channels.

General Satellite Corporation is also registered United Nations Vendor, member of International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the only Russian company to have become a member of European Association for the Protection of Encrypted Works and Services (AEPOC), and it is a member of National Committee for Economic Cooperation with Latin American Countries (CN CEPLA) and other reputable organizations.”

Q: What is the difference between you and other set-top up box suppliers?

A: First of all, we manufacture the equipment ourselves and therefore have complete control over quality. We are strong on quality processes, and we can set up local plants if it makes economic sense. We got several awards including for our TE 7010 model, named the best STB among low price terrestrial receivers, according to the test conducted by the German magazine “Digital Fernsehen”.

Besides, our decoders have integrated advanced middleware which provides customers with many additional services. Our equipment is widely used in pilot digital broadcasting zones in Russia and it is also officially recommended for customers of the biggest satellite television broadcasters.
But we are not only suppliers, as General Satellite can also act as a turnkey system integrator. We have strong partners who can provide satellite capacities for DTH projects, content aggregation platform, transmission and control systems. We can therefore provide a complete end to end digital TV solution either by satellite or by terrestrial network.

Last but not least, we can help African governments in four ways: first, launch national digital TV platforms – either via satellite, digital or cable means – with more guarantees for success because of our learning curve, then get an almost live on-line count of the number of digitalized subscribers, put money into the project and finally enable governments and various ministries (i.e. health, transport, communication) to gain extra communication services with its citizens.

It is also important to highlight that we can help arranging assembly facilities to produced decoders in the country where project will be started, which will create numerous new jobs for local people, provide training and attract more money into the national budget.

Q: How much might such a digital transition project cost?

A: The average cost of these types of projects is different and varies according to markets, business models and services launched. Our company is ready to invest into such projects on the African continent.

Q: Where are your main offices and plants located?
A: The Corporation General Satellite has R&D activities in Saint-Petersburg and offices in about 10 countries. It has also implemented a large-scale investment project – “The area of scientific and technological development — Technopolis Gusev” in the town of Gusev in the Kaliningrad region of Russia. Two new plants, the largest manufacturers of digital television set-top -boxes in Russia and Eastern Europe, were launched there in 2009. Right now the plant producing STBs has production capacity of several million units per year.

Q: You mentioned middleware: How good is it compared to other vendors?

A: General Satellite has developed sophisticated service oriented middleware. It is used by millions of people and has successfully proved its efficiency and its high level of protection. We can transfer and share these modern technologies to Africa.

Main features of these technologies are as follows: practical implementation of the e-government functions; solution for cross-border broadcasting; a tool for express public notification in emergency situations through instant targeted delivery to subscribers with specified content messages; telemedicine and distance education functions, etc.

This unique “Service-oriented middleware” allows control over virtual sub-channel content (channel package), geographical coverage and viewers’ registration, as well as it allows to communicate with viewers directly, e.g. sending personal messages to a particular subscriber’s TV screen. Use of service-oriented middleware has become a standard part of digitization all over the world.

Q: Why are you willing to invest on the African continent vs. other regions?

A: Well, we can invest in any region. But we believe that several Africa countries have started to develop their TV market, and we are sure that we have sufficient technological experience and financial capabilities to help African players accelerate their audiovisual capacity and grow their market. Over the past two years, the General Satellite Corporation has successfully set up foreign partnerships and is looking into the possibility of launching joint DTH, DTT and cable projects around the world, including Africa. The main objective of these JV projects is to give affordable digital TV to the majority of the population. The company’s high expertise, rich experience of project management and customers care makes such partnership fruitful for all the parties interested in long-term hi-tech business launch. Local African partners will get reasonable revenues and expert training to insure that the project is durable.

Q: What types of partners are you after in Africa?

A: We are open to talk to various types of serious partners in Africa: governments, private investors, TV stations whether they are satellite, terrestrial, DTT/DTH/cable, pay TV or FTA. We can set up a joint venture with revenue share agreements

Q: Are you already in talks with some African partners?
A: We have made first contacts at the last Discop Africa. So far we are in talks to setting up in four African countries. When projects become more real, we are happy to establish a branch to manage projects locally. African partners and governments need to understand that the digital switch takes time: from licensing set up, raising funds, undertaking local surveys, implementing technical pilots, distributing STB to the official launch, the digital switchover can take few years, so it is time to embrace it” concluded Polina.