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Temasek shoots down Thaicom plan

Temasek Holdings has opposed Thaicom's plan to launch a new satellite to replace Thaicom 1, which will expire in July.

A source at Shin Corp said Temasek is of the view that the launch would require a huge investment in this time of economic downturn. The cost of building a conventional satellite is estimated at US$150 million (Bt5.2 billion).

Cedar Holdings and Aspen Holdings, which are controlled by the Singapore's state investment arm, Temasek, own a combined over 96 per cent of Shin Corp, which in turns owns 41.27 per cent in Thaicom.

The Thaicom management had recently proposed launching a new satellite to replace Thaicom 1 to its board and shareholders. The board and Shin rejected the proposal and asked Thaicom to maximise the capacity of existing satellites while seeking new more viable options.

This prompted Thaicom to recently consult its concession owner, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, if it could lease a foreign satellite to provide service to the existing customers of Thaicom 1. The ministry is considering the request.

Among the customers of Thaicom 1 are some important Thai national security agencies.

The Shin Corp source added that Shin had asked Thaicom's legal experts to examine if it was possible to lease foreign satellites to provide the service.

According to the preliminary study, the legal experts were of the view that Thaicom's concession does not specify it has to build a new satellite when an old one expires. Thaicom 1, which was launched into orbit in late December 1993, has a 15-year-life span.

The Shin source added that though Thaicom could move the existing customers of Thaicom 1 to Thaicom 5 satellite, it would soon be unable to serve all customers, as the Thaicom 2 satellite is also expiring next year.

Thaicom owns Thaicom 1, 2, and 5 conventional broadcasting satellites and iPSTAR broadband satellite.

Recently Shin's chairman of the group executive committee, Somprasong Boonyachai, said Shin would make no major investments this year, except on the planned development of a 3G wireless broadband service of its flagship Advanced Info Service.

According to brokerage house Kim Eng, Thaicom is expected to post a net loss of Bt381 million in the fourth quarter of last year, due partially to foreign-exchange losses, against a net loss of Bt115 million in the third quarter.

It expected Thaicom to post a loss of Bt164 million in 2008, an improvement from the Bt1.2-billion loss in the previous year, due to the continued demand for its broadcasting and broadband satellite services.

The company expects to post a net profit of Bt351 million this year if it could begin providing the iPSTAR broadband service in the vast Indian market in the second half. The company is seeking permission from the Indian government to import the equipment and waiting to sign contracts with customers.

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