‘We are now looking at launching two fourth-generation satellites,’ says Saad Albidneh, director-general of Arabsat. ‘Bids are in to build and launch them, and it will be 18-26 months before the launch. All major international satellite manufacturers arebidding.’

The cost of building and launching a new satellite is between $120 million and $300 million, depending on the number and quality of transponders it has. Arabsat’s existing fleet comprises two first-generation satellites, launched in the early 1980s, two second-generation satellites, and one third-generation satellite, which was launched in 1999.

‘We want additional capacity to cover the whole of our footprint,’ says Albidneh. ‘Our satellites cover the entire Arab world as well as parts of Europe and India.’

Established in 1976 under the aegis of the Arab League, Arabsat provides a number of satellite services. It is owned by government shareholders, including 21 Arab countries. Nine countries are on the board, of which five are the main shareholders, two are best operators and two are elected on a year-to-year basis. Albidneh says Arabsat’s profit on operating capacity is 25-30 per cent.

‘We have all kinds of service,’ says Albidneh. ‘We do television broadcasting, internet, tele-education, special applications and very small aperture terminal [VSAT]. Arabsat has a role in serving poorly served areas of low bandwidth. Arab telecommunications are developing at a good speed, and over the next 10 years, Arabsat will provide the last-mile service, broadcasting point-to-multipoint.’

Arabsat owns a 10 per cent stake in the UAE’s Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company, which launched its operations in early 2001. It is also a shareholder in Qatar Telecomand Albidneh says it is eager to gain more shares in Arab telecommunications companies. It already offers consultancy services to Arab governments on satellite opportunities.