Economy, Sci & Tech

Satellite Deals on Agenda

Satellite Deals on Agenda
Satellite Deals on Agenda

Iran is taking preliminary steps toward leasing or buying commercial satellites and acquiring related technologies, according to industry officials familiar with the matter, another sign of dramatic changes stemming from the recent international rollback of economic sanctions.

Providers of satellite services and hardware on both sides of the Atlantic are maneuvering to land business in Iran, even as the country has started recruiting western advisers to pave the way for such deals, which could include using satellites already in orbit, according to some of these officials.

However, they predicted that such agreements are at least weeks or months away, Nasdaq reported.

For now, these officials said European space companies seem to have the inside track, thanks in part to closer diplomatic ties and because the European Union’s remaining sanctions against Iran are less restrictive than those enforced by the US.

The current talks are largely exploratory, according to the officials, with no major satellite-related deals believed to be imminent. The heightened level of activity, however, reflects Iran’s longstanding interest in gaining access to western commercial space technology.

President Hassan Rouhani recently told French business leaders that his country, among a long list of issues, was interested in cooperation in the telecommunications field, IRNA reported.

Iran’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mahmoud Vaezi has talked in general terms about the French visit providing a “good opportunity to promote cooperation in building national telecommunications satellites” and pursuing other space goals.

Since the rollback of international nuclear and other sanctions nearly two weeks ago, Iran has moved quickly to complete multibillion-dollar deals in different areas, including satellites.

“There are going to be some big contracts and they’re going to come quickly,” said Keith Volkert, a US-based satellite-industry consultant who works for American and European clients. As soon as Tehran decides on a path, he adds, a number of satellite-services companies “could put coverage into Iran instantly”.

Tehran has built and launched a number of fledgling domestic satellites, though so far they have all been relatively small and the government was forced to turn to Russia, China and India for design and launch of potentially more-ambitious projects.

An Italian-built communications satellite that was never delivered because it was caught up in sanctions may be turned over to Tehran in coming months, according to industry officials.

But bigger and more expensive plans may be brewing. Paris-based Eutelsat Communications SA, which operates a fleet of 39 satellites with considerable capacity for television broadcasting and Internet connectivity over Iran and the Middle East, is talking with the country’s space agency about expanding offerings in the region, according to one of the industry officials familiar with the matter.

Another official said two British advisory outfits, including a London-based law firm specializing in international trade, also are engaged in early discussions with the agency about ways of boosting Iran’s Internet and possibly video connections.

Options include buying new ground equipment or renting capacity on foreign satellites. Negotiations for Iran to buy new satellites are bound to be more complex and controversial, so they would take longer to nail down.

Yet initial steps have begun. A Washington-based partner at Hogan Lovells, an international law firm with an extensive list of satellite and telecommunications clients, said, “We are advising a wide range of companies about potential provision of services and equipment to Iran.”

The partner, Stephen Propst, also stressed that at this point, US companies are lagging behind rivals across the Atlantic.

“On the European side, the lifting of the sanctions is broader and they are in a stronger position to do some of these transactions,” Propst said.