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Thai satellite promises to bring Internet age to rural Asia
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  • BANGKOK (AFP) Aug 11, 2005
    An Ariane 5 rocket carrying a 6.5-tonne Thai communications satellite, the heaviest ever, was launched Thursday with the promise of bringing high-speed Internet to the remotest corners of Asia.

    Shin Satellite says the orbiter will deliver broadband connections to Asian villages and Australian outback towns that lie far off fibre-optic cable grids, under a footprint that will stretch from India to China to New Zealand.

    Worth more than 400 million dollars, the IPSTAR-1 is the world's largest civilian communications satellite, says the company owned by the family of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    The launch at 0825 GMT, having been delayed from its 0639 GMT launch with 15 seconds left in the countdown because of technical problems.

    The launch was broadcast live on Thai television by a government-run station and one owned by Shin Corp, the company that Thaksin founded before he entered politics. Footage showed Thai officials clapping and cheering as the rocket took off and released its booster rockets.

    The satellite, built in the United States by Space Systems/Loral, was launched in French Guyana by the European agency Arianespace.

    Shin Satellite, along with many analysts and technology watchers, was upbeat about a smooth, on-schedule launch after a series of testing problems pushed back the original 2004 launch.

    John Tanner, global technology editor for Hong Kong-based Telecom Asia magazine, said the delays came as no surprise in what was a major technological feat.

    "Essentially, IPSTAR-1 is one of the most complex satellites ever designed, with about 10 times as many components as a standard satellite," he said.

    "That means more hardware to test, and more anomalies that pop up during the tests. Shin Satellite is playing it very carefully. They only get one shot at this. If the satellite goes up and fails, they're in very big trouble."

    KGI Securities' head of research in Bangkok, Pat Pattaphongse said that while some investors were skeptical because of the hiccups and delays, market sentiment was broadly optimistic.

    "If you look at the recent share price reaction, I think people are starting to believe it will come through this time," he said.

    Shin Satellite shares closed Wednesday at 15.20 baht, up from a five-month low of 13.30 baht on July 20 after the last scheduled launch was postponed.

    Shares rose 2.96 percent on July 25, after the company said a technical problem had been fixed and announced the August 11 launch date, and rose by another 2.70 percent on August 8.

    Pat said broadband Internet and telephone connections by satellite had broad market potential, especially in remote and rural areas of India and China, where infrastructure lags behind the rapid development seen in cities.

    Shin Satellite is targeting two million to four million people across the region, with its satellite expected to stay operational in orbit for 12 years.

    The service area covers 14 countries, with data routed through 18 "gateways", similar to switching stations used in telephone systems, that can be adjusted to improve or weaken the signal, the Shin Satellite spokesman said.

    Some gateways are in major cities like Bangkok and Mumbai, others in Australian outback towns like Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie.

    The company sold 8,136 of its special satellite dishes and modems in the second quarter of 2005, against 5,500 for all of 2004 -- but it hopes subscriptions will sky-rocket once the service is up and running.

    "With almost 20 times higher bandwidth (45 gigabits per second) than conventional satellites ... the company expects user terminal sales volume will grow exponentially after the launch," Shin Satellite said in a filing Tuesday.

    The fast, hi-tech service doesn't come cheap, said a spokesman, who added: "We're not selling to farmers in Asia."

    Receivers now sell at about 1,000 dollars, but prices are expected to fall to 300 dollars as the number of subscribers pick up.

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