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Astra promises HD bonanza

17 August 2006

Six months ago satellite operator SES Astra was happily predicting it would eventually be carrying 100 HD channels but not for a hundred years, writes Chris Forrester. Speaking in August, SES Global president and CEO Romain Bausch said Astra now expected to reach the magic 100 HD channels by 2010, barely 40 months away.

Helped by the fact that it is already broadcasting 19 HDTV channels, to help cope with this anticipated expansion in demand SES is ordering new satellites for Europe. It already has some 286 transponders operating (and an 84% ‘fill rate’), with capacity very tight over its UK and mainland Europe orbital positions. Bausch said Astra’s high def confidence is helped by a groundswell of consumer support for HDTV, with more than 5m ‘HD Ready’ sets already sold in Europe, and those numbers showing no sign of slowing. This ‘100 channel’ HD target will help ameliorate the company’s still heavy dependence on German analogue channels.

Bausch told analysts that SES Global’s strategy was “unchained” with its primary focus being on core satellite infrastructure. Two weeks ago Global’s main board approved procurement of another pair of satellites (Astra 3B and New Skies’ NSS-9) on top of a heavy satellite-building programme averaging three new craft a year for the next three or four years. Bausch said SES was in the middle of a “most dynamic” phase. Astra 1L is due for launch in “early” Q1/2007, which will allow Astra 2C (currently on station at 19.2 deg E) to move to the ‘UK’ orbital slot at 28.2 deg E, and provide some much-needed capacity (between 10-16 extra transponders) for Britain and Ireland.

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