Satellite program aims at Myanmar’s skies

A tender for satellite services in Myanmar has reached advanced stages, with the pool of applicants whittled down to four bidders. The bidding process comes as part of a broader national satellite program, with the government aiming to address existing needs in the market and to eventually fill the country’s slot in the sky with a Myanmar satellite. Myanmar has pursued a satellite program for five years now, with the country following the lead of others, according to Post and Telecommunications (PTD) director U Than Htun Aung. The program – which aims to vault a Myanmar satellite into the sky – chases commercial benefits, security and national prestige, he said.

“If you can get all the bandwidth together from one satellite, it will reduce the cost very, very much and will benefit broadcast operators, telecom operators as well as private users,” he said.
“The second purpose is for security – if we have control of our own satellite, it will give a lot of leverage in terms of having protection of our own citizens.” “The third thing is national prestige. Many countries around Southeast Asia already have satellite programs in place, so we are also trying to catch up with them.” Though U Than Htun Aung called a national satellite the “ultimate aim”, the program will move through a few stages to get there. First, Myanmar’s bandwidth needs will be combined and addressed by one satellite provider through leasing; then it will use a satellite shared among neighbours, he said.
“For example, maybe Cambodia or Laos and Myanmar can join together and have one satellite in orbit,” he said. “We may call it Myanmar condosat and then we will share.” Stage three sees Myanmar technology head to space, though a timeline for launch remains difficult to pin down. U Than Htun Aung said capacity building is required.
“We need to do a lot of coordination with international organisations for putting [out] our own satellite – so it takes a lot of time,” he said. In the meantime, the MCIT tender “is only for leasing bandwidth”.
“But … it also covers [advising] the government on the stages,” he said.

Last June, two international consultants – SatConsult and Euroconsult – were chosen to help the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) with development, SatConsult Asia Pacific representative Laurence Lagriffoul told the audience at Myanmar Satellite Forum yesterday. U Than Htun Aung said a second regulatory body called the Information Technology and Cyber Security Department (ITCSD) – separate from PTD and overseeing satellite – is running the tender.

The government is seeking a partner for the short-term lease of satellite capacity, said Ms Lagriffoul. Fifteen firms sent in bids, with some suggesting they would provide capacity on satellites already in the sky, and others on those as yet still on the ground. She said the second step was a condosat scheme – long-term cooperation which could be for ten or fifteen years.

“The long-term aspect is only an option. We are focusing today really on the short-term.” The list of bidders has been cut to four after a screening process. Ms Lagriffoul said meetings with shortlisted companies took place in Nay Pyi Taw in October. “The selection of the preferred and second-best bidder is currently in process and the result will be announced in due course,” she said.

In the meantime, satellite is already being put to use for communications and other purposes in Myanmar. Current usage stands at 1418 megahertz, with government users – Myanma Posts and Telecommunications and MITV among them – responsible for roughly one-third of that figure. The other two-thirds are leased by the private sector, said Ms Lagriffoul, citing research from SATConsult and Euroconsult. Demand will increase 36 percent to 1930MH between 2015 and 2019, then up to 2458MH in 2029, she said.

Nearly 40pc of capacity is used for cellular backhaul, with television and very-small-aperture terminal (VSAT) networks taking 28pc and 29pc. “There are places throughout Myanmar we cannot reach to cover, so we have to use [very-small-aperture] terminals,” U Than Htun Aung said. The regulatory director said the number of licenced operators would increase. “Satellite will play a more prominent role in the future because it is also utilised in many countries … for non-commercial purposes – for example for disaster communications and emergency communications,” he said.

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