Clayton Vallabhan goes for an exclusive first-hand tour of STN’s teleport facility to see how the company’s teleport is rapidly evolving beyond traditional broadcasting, for greater engagement with OTT, fibre connectivity and vertical industries
At Satellite 2016 in Washington, the WTA presented an award to STN Teleport for The best Independent Teleport Operator. The WTA awards are presented each year to organisations and individuals in the teleport industry whose achievements have been deemed exceptional by the international trade association and its awards committees.
The teleport was also ranked in the Top 10 Fastest growing Teleports for three consecutive years in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Middle East was STNs first major market outside of Europe. It has always been a strong market and continues to grow for the company.
We realise as a teleport that just working with TV and radio channels is just not enough. STN not only has its PoPs in all major data centres in Europe, but is also connected with fibre networks spanning worldwide. The consumer is evolving, and we too are evolving to meet new demands. With new products, you need to assess a new direction and new development, which is what we are preparing for the long term, says Andrej Lovsin, CEO at STN.
According to Lovsin, STN is continuously exploring and developing new market regions. Currently some of the strongest areas it services include Europe, Middle East and North America, but STN has a growing market in Africa and is now in the process of growing the Far East market too.
STN strives to partner with all commercial satellite operators worldwide and last year extended its portfolio to include services for two transponders on Yahsat, with an additional one planned to start in May.
With STN now matured into a truly global teleport, we can offer our clients extensive service solutions around the globe. These include multi-regional or single packages which are very interesting for our clients. We are now seeing clients that want to become truly global, and STN can help them achieve that. This is especially more evident with our Middle Eastern clients who are becoming more and more interested to extend their services to Europe and other regions. says Lovsin.
Lovsin believes the success of the business lies in the ability to bring a package of channels from one area and have them downlinked to a completely different area or multiple areas. During his recent visit to CABSAT 2016, he says it has been reaffirmed that the direction the company is moving in is correct. It is with this enthusiasm that STN is now working on building the third phase of the teleport, so that it can prepare for new strategic service developments and projects.
Reminiscing about the growth of the company, to now being in line with a truly global teleport, Lovsin says that though the road has had a few potholes, he knew success would come eventually.
STN was established in 2004, and started off by servicing 20 channels. The teleport was based in the city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, but within four years of operation, the facilities became too small to service the number of clients the teleport was getting on board. Understanding the potential opportunities a larger base could help achieve, Lovsin decided to move the operation to a bigger area.
We have huge plans going forward, and have purchased new land behind the current teleport, that is the same size as what we have now, effectively doubling our space for the facility. We have also started offering new services like OTT, with other new projects in the pipe line which include TT&C.
With the mountainous ranges and hills in Slovenia, finding the right area for a teleport seemed a little challenging at first. We needed a vast open area where we could get the best angle for satellite reach both from the East as well as the West.
We finally came upon this fantastic location, away from the city, in Dob. This was ideal, so we bought the land and started to build STN Teleport as you see it now. In 2009 we moved to the new premises and this was the first phase of major growth for us, says Lovsin.
However three years later in 2011, STN needed to further expand its facility and thus started the development of the second phase.
This growth was phenomenal for us as a company, because we started with servicing about 20 channels, which quickly grew to over 650 channels that we currently manage today. With new projects coming on board, that number will reach nearly 800 channels by the end of the year, adds Lovsin.
On the July 1 2015 the company reorganised its structure and became a public limited company, and on March 1, this year Anver Anderson was announced as the companys new General Manager. Anderson brings with him a wealth of knowledge that he has amassed working in various verticals throughout the telecom and satellite sector.
Anderson says: In the last eight months weve been doing a lot of targeted marketing to the people that we need to be speaking to and the people we believe need our services. We try as much as we can to guide customers, because we understand that the service we provide ensures they can reach the audience they are looking to attract.
STN plays a crucial part in the value chain and we know we can provide every service required, technically. But we know sometimes its not even about the technology, or satellite or the content, its more often about subscriber values and advertising revenues, and how they drive our market.
He goes on to explain that recently STN had a customer who wanted the latest technology and said DVB-S2 was a top priority. While the technology is great, through discussion and planning with the client it was agreed that this might not really service the client for where he needs to be.
Anderson says on the beam that the customer was looking at, maybe one-third of the set-top boxes were available to receive DVB-S2. In actuality what the customer really needed was to hit as many people as he could to generate more revenue. Hence, the team at STN guided him, not away from HD in entirety, but towards more of SD to maximise his value in the marketplace.
We are capable of carrying channels in HD and are already doing experiments with HEVC, but we are really acutely aware of what our customers sometimes need, even when they dont realise it themselves. When a channel comes to us they want to get from A to B, but they dont necessarily have the technical expertise or the market information that we have, and we work with them to share that. Therefore this customer will now go with SD, but will hit many more people than he could have with HD. Once the customer has grown his revenues and advertising, he can than move to HD and were right here to manage that transition, continues Anderson.
Speaking about Africa, Lovsin says that a lot of people complain that it is a difficult market to crack, as operators are dumping capacity there and lowering prices as a result.
The most important thing to understand is that every region in the world has some satellites that are popular, and others that are not so popular. If you are on a popular satellite, you give yourself higher chances to succeed. People are not going to fix 10 antennas on their roof to get every single channel. We started in Africa with SES-5, which uplinks in Ka-band and downlinks in Ku-band, covering Sub-Saharan Africa; then there is capacity on IS-20, another popular satellite in Africa. We are currently also working with some satellite owners on C- Band capacity for Africa. Therefore, it is important to correctly determine which satellites will give the client the most return for their investment. It doesnt help if you deliver a signal to a region, and the client says nobody is watching the channels.
According to him, Africa is an extremely sensitive market, definitely a market for the future, but one where you have to start correctly. STN currently operates seven transponders over Africa: four on Astra with others on IS-20 and AfricaSat.
Similarly, a lot of clients from the Middle East want to be present on popular satellites in different regions and the TV channels that beam from these positions have a lot of viewers. STN understands this and works closely with satellite providers to deliver viable solutions. Another Middle East operator that the teleport shares a very good client relationship with, is Yahsat.
For Yahsat, we have 33 channels, out of which 23 are in full HD. More of HD is definitely coming on-board. SD will be something that will be forgotten in a year or two. In fact the progression of broadcasters towards higher definition viewing choices is so great. We are currently working on a project with a client to deliver 150 channels, and four of them are in 4K, with the majority of the rest in HD.
With this you have to understand that HD will need more capacity on the satellite, thus we have now started engaging higher compression through partnering with Elemental. The quality of this equipment is really good, and we can now offer at reduced capacity, quality of TV channels in HD. The biggest cost for TV stations is that of satellite capacity. If you can reduce this capacity, and allow the broadcaster to beam out a few more channels it really becomes a value proposition.
We have changed a lot of ground equipment on our teleport and this is our approach for the future. We are moving forward to improve the quality of channels, and will in turn benefit clients because they can use less space for more HD channels. There are currently three projects we have that are working purely towards with this approach. Our OTT offerings too are through Elemental, which will allow us to manage 140 channels in various resolutions, says Lovsin.
Anderson adds that the company has some good strategic discussions and development planned for this year, as to how it might be able to approach the two-way market such as oil & gas, construction, education and, banking and enterprise.
It doesnt intend to approach these markets in the traditional way buying a hub and hoping to build a market around it. STN is looking at ways to interact with what would normally be its competitors and then bring value to what they have put in place in terms of their equipment, by working as a virtual network operator from their system.
He says: If they have coverage of a region then there is an excellent business model to develop. There are hubs that are very well linked in some strategic regions, but the hub itself is only running below its available capacity.
This is a proposition where everyone wins. We have been approached in the past by another teleport, who have brought to us opportunities in the broadcasting market that they cant deliver on. In the future if we get an enquiry for a two-way service, which we cant help with, wed be more than happy to share that with them by return. This is a very unusual way to work, and we wouldnt do this with everybody, but there are a few players where we can mutually lend services to each other, and in time maybe we will formalise this.
Teleports are changing. It is no longer about taking a satellite transmission and delivering it somewhere else. STN is feeding into OTT networks and fibre networks. Anderson says the company is working with other partners elsewhere to uplink in different regions, and this has become much more globalised.
What is interesting about the Middle East is that there is a huge amount of cultural, religious, documentary and news content. What is more interesting is when it needs to get carried to other places. We are always looking at the diaspora from many countries and we know that there is a large community of people from the Middle East living in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. So if you want to go global with content you have from the Middle East, you only need one partner to deliver on this, and thats us at STN. We really do have that route to market.
The real route to success is sound management and here at STN we have enjoyed steady double-digit growth year-on-year, with services and revenue, and thats exactly how we want to grow our business. Everything we make, we build on, and this is absolutely critical to the way we go forward, concludes Anderson.