Satellite ushers in a new era of communications for Africa

Thomas_2___smaller.jpgFor years Africa has been known as the “Dark Continent”, its history of civil war and strife lending it a fearful aspect. One of the legacies of this dark past is that the continent has historically struggled and
continues to struggle with poor or non-existent communication infrastructure.

From many years of infighting and conflict, fixed line copper cable infrastructures have been neglected in many countries, and left to fall into disrepair. In other countries development has been slow due to governmental problems, lack of funding and other reasons. Even in countries like South Africa, where the infrastructure has been well developed and maintained, theft of the copper lines has caused a marked decline in available service.
Adding to this the high cost involved in deploying copper, as well as the fact that telecommunications have been regulated by government in several countries, and it paints a sad picture of the African communications landscape.

Businesses, no matter their size, have been unable to rely on a stable and affordable communications infrastructure. As the Internet and the ability to be interconnected has become a vital requirement of modern business, investment into African countries has been hampered and those already
involved in enterprises in Africa tend to find the cost of doing business uncompetitive.

Lack of reliable communication infrastructure has resulted in economic development across Africa being stunted. However, despite or perhaps because of the lack of fixed-line infrastructure, Africa has become a burgeoning market for cellular service providers. But there remains a need for a cost
effective, widely deployed communication infrastructure that is easy to install and maintain, in order to connect Africa with the rest of the world, and bring about sustainable economic development.

Satellite technology, or VSAT, may be the answer to the provision of voice and data services across Africa. Although it is currently more expensive than terrestrial wireless access, it is easier to deploy over widespread and remote areas, with lower population densities and as connections are
established between users via satellites that are in orbit, communications can be quickly established once satellite capacity is in place. Only basic infrastructure such as a power supply for the hub and for the remote terminals at customer premises is required, and VSAT infrastructure is far cheaper to maintain than other technologies.

VSAT technology has been in use for more than 20 years, and is a stable and proven means of establishing communications. New initiatives in Africa include the O3B project and the New Dawn satellite, which will provide a large transponder capacity. Existing players such as YAHSAT and ARABSAT are also launching new satellites. This will mean that businesses in Africa do not have to wait for copper, fibre or wireless infrastructure to be deployed. The wide geographic coverage of VSAT is especially suited to remote sites, and can effectively bridge the technology gap in areas where there is no fixed line infrastructure or where wireless infrastructure may take many months to deploy.

Satellite communications is a robust alternative means of communications, and while costs may currently be high, as more players enter the market, prices will be driven down to a more affordable level, and infrastructure can then be driven rapidly throughout the continent.

By using satellite technology to build a solid telecommunications infrastructure, African countries will be better placed to develop small and medium businesses and to attract foreign investment. Local companies will also be able to utilise the internet for e-commerce, to do business and to make their goods and services available to domestic and international markets. Governments will be able to provide services using the Internet; schools can make use of the Internet for educational purposes and remote clinics will be able to communicate with metro hospitals for specialist medical treatments. It has also been proven that solid telecommunications creates employment in ICT and other sectors and significantly contributes to the GDP growth of a country.

Companies with the skills and expertise to assist enterprises and service providers to plan, deploy and maintain a VSAT network, who are partnered with leading global technology companies that have deployed VSAT networks in many parts of the world, will be vital in the coming renaissance of African

If enough satellite capacity can be built to compete with undersea initiatives such as Seacom, EASSY and WACS, prices may be forced down to levels attractive to businesses and consumers, creating demand and ultimately fuelling and stimulating investment and growth. In fact, new entrants and existing players view satellite communications and undersea initiatives as ‘co-existing’ technologies that can provide redundancy due to the fact that satellite is inherently more resilient as a result of its
non-terrestrial architecture. New players will result in further adjustment of pricing with additional capacity.

Thomas Makore,
MD of Spescom Telecommunications

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