Most of the satellite dishes going to the Middle East make their way through Rotterdam, the world’s third-largest port. It’s here, among the 12 million containers processed annually, that the satellite technology and modems arrive in Europe. Most of the manufacturers are located in the Far East, with their customers based in Paris, London or Luxembourg.
A number of distribution firms are involved in the sales chain of the technologies required to obtain satellite Internet access. At the beginning of this chain are the major European satellite operators, led by France’s Eutelsat, Great Britain’s Avanti Communications and Luxembourg’s SES. Among the most popular brands are Hughes by Avanti and, especially, Tooway by Eutelsat. The French company has been in business for years and offers almost complete global coverage with its satellites.
Distribution firms then buy facilities and satellite capacity from the big companies and resell it to corporate or private customers. They also work together with additional companies like the German firm Sat Internet Services based in the northern city of Neustadt am Rübenberge.
It’s a lucrative business for company CEO Victor Kühne, who expanded distribution to Turkey a few years ago. His problem is: the market for satellite Internet technology is limited in the European Union because of near blanket coverage of standard broadband Internet connections on the continent. Sales in Turkey are fairly slow too, because satellite connections are more expensive than classic DSL access.
The satellite operators don’t provide data on the number of customers they have, but there is anecdotal evidence. In Turkey, for example, those seeking to access the Internet using a satellite dish are required to register with the government’s BTK telecommunications authority. According to the most recent data available from the agency, there were 11,000 registered satellite Internet users in Turkey during the first quarter of 2015, only 500 more than the previous year.
But during 2013 and 2014, alone, Neustadt-based Sat Internet Services exported more than 6,000 dishes to Turkey, customs agency documents obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE show. It is likely that most of those satellite dishes did not remain in Turkey, and there’s a strong chance a good deal of them ended up in Syria. The Syrian market has a decisive advantage in that there is no alternative Internet access available, meaning prices can be set very high.