Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thrusters on for a national satellite

The Union Government of Myanmar is prioritising putting a national satellite into orbit, according to government representatives at a recent conference.

Russia’s Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft carrying the International Space Station’s crew blasts off in May 2014. Photo: AFPRussia’s Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft carrying the International Space Station’s crew blasts off in May 2014. Photo: AFP

In his keynote address at CommuniCast Myanmar’s Satellite Forum, deputy minister of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MICT) U Thaung Tin revealed the government could look to satellite in the short and long term to answer the call for service coverage in a new era of telecoms.

“We have targeted over 80 percent [surface] coverage and over 90pc population coverage of mobile penetration within five years,” he said. “Myanmar has a complex and diverse set-up geographically and finding a solution for the rollout of telecom services throughout the country in such a short timeframe is a big challenge ... Satellite is one the solutions to meet the demand of the challenges.”

The deputy minister called Myanmar’s desire to have a national satellite “natural” and said the government would like to get going on the process as soon as possible.

But many variables need to get nailed down before a Myanmar satellite is in the sky, according to U Than Htun Aung, director of MICT’s posts and telecommunications department.

MICT Deputy Minister U Thaung Tin talks about Myanmar’s moves toward placing a satellite on the final frontier. Photo: SuppliedMICT Deputy Minister U Thaung Tin talks about Myanmar’s moves toward placing a satellite on the final frontier. Photo: Supplied

“Having our own satellite is [a] priority for the government,” U Than Htun Aung said. “But having said that, we are trying to understand the issues and challenges related to having our own satellite in orbit.”

The government must decide where to send a satellite, what kind of use – such as communication – it will be put to, how to commercialise its capacity, and which launching service to partner with, according to U Than Htun Aung.

Though Myanmar has one “slot” in the sky open to it, the government could choose an alternate geographic area depending on propositions from potential partners.

“We have received proposals not to utilise our assigned slot but use a commercial slot which is out of our geoposition,” U Than Htun Aung said. “We have to understand what will be the benefits of putting our satellite in our assigned position or in the commercial slot.”

U Than Htun Aung said the satellite’s “ground control segment” may or may not be in-country, but having a Myanmar satellite and stationing the ground control facility within the nation’s borders could help address demand for bandwidth and the needs of fresh market entrants arriving on the wing of a new broadcasting bill.

“We now have three fully-operational telecom operators ... and besides those Telecom operators, broadcasting also use a lot of satellite capacities,” U Than Htun Aung said. With Myanmar’s broadcasting law, there will likley be more more private broadcasters, which will also increase demand for bandwith.

Industries including oil and gas, mining, and banking need satellite service to get connectivity in remote areas telecoms coverage hasn’t touched yet, he said, and the government is also looking into broadband access – which will play a major role connecting Myanmar to the internet in the future – via satellite.

“We haven’t made a specific projection yet, but when we increase the penetration broadband will definitely become almost the majority of the penetration. For example if you talk about 75pc of the teledensity or penetration by [budget year 2015-2016] then I think about 75pc of that will be broadband, either wired or wireless,” U Than Htun Aung said. “We are developing plans to utilise the radio wave so that a large area of Myanmar and population will be covered by broadband in a short period of time.”

Placing a satellite in the sky could take years; in the meantime, the government plans to “provide satellite services to Myanmar government, ministry and related entities”, U Thaung Tin said.

For both projects, the government will select partners in much the same way it chose Ooredoo and Telenor to roll out mobile coverage: in a “transparent and open tendering process”, he added.

With telecoms and other regulatory reform under way and the government pushing initiatives forward, satellite coverage in Myanmar could be poised for takeoff.