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Bringing satellite internet to the masses

January 8, 2014 • Mobile and Telecoms, Satellite Comms, Top Stories

Lagos, Nigeria. One of the territories in which SatADSL's connectivity project is expected to help users. (Image source: Shutterstock)

Lagos, Nigeria. One of the territories in which SatADSL’s connectivity project is expected to help users. (Image source: Shutterstock)

Despite an increase in internet connectivity across the continent, there are still pockets of users who have yet to benefit from access to broadband or any form of connectivity. This is not because they cannot afford the running cost - it is because there are no fibre cables or mobile broadband in their areas.

This is where SatADSL comes in – the company has initiated a project to provide satellite internet connectivity to thousands of users who do not have access to a stable connection.The SatADSL project started about two years ago after the company identified a need to service the middle-layer users.

“The project was borne from an initiative that stemmed from a consultation. We realised that there was a market and nobody was doing anything, so we did it ourselves. Even if there is competition, there is a need for the middle layer market – not big corporations or consumers – but the small office and home,” the company’s Chief Operations Officer Caroline de Vos told IT News Africa.

While the technology and the set-up might sound like it is best suited to a small minority, de Vos added that there is actually more active users than one would think. “Our niche is not targeted. In between there is a layer of customers that have like five PCs and can’t afford the expensive equipment to run broadband or internet any other way.”

De Vos was quick to add that satellite connection is often the only reliable way to connect users in a rural setting, for example.

“More people are willing to have satellite internet in rural areas as there is no fibre and it’s difficult to get cables into the areas. The only way to have a connection is by mobile phone or satellite, but mobile phones are not stable and the infrastructure isn’t reliable. It is often congested, so satellite internet is only way to connect.”

Setting up a satellite internet connection is also easier than what most people would think. The days of searching for hours to get the best possible connection are long gone.

“You have a suitcase that you open, reach the satellite through the provided software and then connect to it. With an earplug you can hear where the best connectivity is and then connect to the modem and the computer – providing internet.”

De Vos explained that the suitcase works off of a 2-volt car battery and is easily operated. She added that users can then select their subscription method, the connection speed and the volume of data needed. “There are already a lot of applications for it, such as browsing, banking and a number of ATMs.”

SatADSL currently operates in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Senegal, Mali and Somalia forming the northern border of their operations. “We also operate in Nigeria, but when we started out we only had one satellite for West Africa. Last year we went with a new satellite and expanded the range into Southern Africa, and we now have a good presence in East Africa.”

Whilst the market for large-scale satellite in South Africa is minimised because of the high level of infrastructure and connection in the country, users in rural areas, including farmers, will derive value from satellite application.

Fortunately the company does not have to rely solely on itself for Research and Development because they have the backing of European Union. “We have a program where they give us funds for R&D on the technical specification, but of course this doesn’t happen blindly – it’s a 50-50 investment,” she said.

“It’s a lot of paper-work and you have to make sure that you proposal is one hundred percent accurate. Only then will things get under way. We are monitored by them to make sure we reach our goals,” De Vos concluded.

De Vos has been working for the European Space Agency and other international satellite services companies such as Space Application services (SAS), and was also the former operation manager of the satellite communication service company Space Checker. 

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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