Telenor steals UPC-D away from Astra

Chris Forrester

SES Astra said it had received “ongoing requests from major customers” for capacity which will shortly be vacated by UPC Direct, after UPC’s DTH operation over Europe shifted its from SES Astra and its 19.2 deg East cluster of satellites, to Telenor’s 1 deg West position.

UPC is taking a total of 7 transponders from Telenor, and the deal is a significant ‘win’ for the Oslo-based satellite operator. The UPC contract with Astra expires in 2010, and Astra insiders say they have been anticipating the move for some time, and that they are confident that demand will quickly mop up the – then – spare capacity.

Alexander Oudendijk, COO of SES Astra, said: “Our confidence is based on the considerable demand from Western European key markets and strong dynamics in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The dynamics of the CEE markets are demonstrated by the impressive growth of customers like CS Link and Skylink which gained nearly 1 million subscribers in a very short period of time.”

Oudendijk added that the 5 transponders vacated by UPC Direct would “help us to meet current demand and customer requests for capacity at our prime orbital position”, including for capacity for high definition TV channels.

While most see the UPC decision as a solid long-term business win for Telenor (which will use some of its Thor 6 capacity, due for launch later this year, to fulfil the contract) it is generally accepted that the terms must have been extremely attractive to UPC which must now re-align some 330,000 homes beginning in the late Spring on next year – and this is an expensive process.

Most of UPC Direct’s subscribers live in Hungary, the Czech Republic or Slovakia, and these areas are very much part of the neighbourhood that Telenor is keen to be serving. Telenor now serves some 2m homes in Central and Eastern Europe. Astra’s demand tends to come from Western Europe.