SES Astra Spreads Wings to South America

SES Astra S.A., the Luxembourg-based satellite operator, recently moved one step closer to its goal of becoming a global broadband operator.

The company announced that it would take a 20 percent stake in Brazil's Embratel Satellite Division for $135 million, thus gaining its first presence over the Americas.

SES Astra retains an option to acquire a further 10 percent stake in the operator of the Brazilsat system. That company is a subsidiary of Embratel Participaçoes S.A., which is controlled by U.S. telco MCI WorldCom Inc. The deal values the regional operator at $675 million.

The partners said they intend to invest a further $900 million over five years.

The announcement follows a recent SES Astra acquisition that extended its coverage area to Scandinavia, Germany and the United Kingdom. Under that deal, SES Astra took a 50 percent stake in the Nordic Satellite Co. (NSAB), which operates the Sirius satellites.

Both deals involve an agreement through which SES Astra will develop a coverage-area expansion strategy for the two companies and provide them with its "ASTRA-Net" platform for data and multimedia broadcasting. That platform is built around DVB data-transmission standards.

Satellite operators are seeking partners because orbital slots and frequency spectrum are scarce in the face of rapidly growing demand for satellite-delivered broadband-Internet and multimedia services.

It's no coincidence that SES Astra's European rival, Eutelsat, recently bought the right to use Ku-band frequencies on two orbital slots from the resource-strapped Russians.

According to SES Astra spokesman Yves Feltes, the operator will continue its previously stated quest to seek out a North American partner.

"We have more to offer [to U.S. operators]," he said, in reference not only to SES Astra's holdings in Europe and Brazil, but also its stake in the Asia-Pacific satellite company AsiaSat.