‘We have not reached our previous target for subscribers, but our revenues are greater than expected,’ says a Thuraya spokesman. ‘This is because average usage rates have been much higher than we anticipated. We had planned for three minutes use a day per subscriber but have found that some markets are averaging six-to-nine minutes. In some parts of Afghanistan, the phones are permanently left on, possibly for data transmissions.’

Thuraya currently has 48,000 subscribers and is targeting 100,000 by the end of the year. ‘Our best markets have been Afghanistan and Pakistan, followed by Nigeria and then Saudi Arabia and Yemen,’ says the spokesman. ‘We are to launch operations in Turkey soon and are expecting this to be a key market. The prospects in Iran are also good, but it is a difficult market to operate in.’

Thuraya’s geographical coverage will be boosted by the launch of its second satellite, built by The Boeing Company of the US, which is scheduled to take place in January or February of next year. It will primarily be used as a back up for the first satellite but, depending on its positioning, could allow Thuraya to extend its services into Russia or sub-Saharan Africa (MEED 5:7:02).