Satellite Connectivity : Still vital for Africa !!

Presentation1Satellite Connectivity is vital for Africa

Despite the arrival of more than 20 optic fibre cable networks now reaching African shores, satellite services will continue to fulfil an important role in providing the telecommunications infrastructure for urban centres as well as inland and remote areas, particularly as new high capacity Ka-band satellites come on-stream. According to IDC , Satellite connectivity will remain a force to be reckoned with because the appetite for data continues to grow in Africa.Despite the significant upswing in cable connectivity, analysts continue to believe there is plenty of room for both fiber and satellites to co-exist. With recent studies showing that more than 50% of the African population will continue to have no fiber connection, despite the onset of WACS and ACE, the African satellite opportunity will not go away very soon. And with the economies of today largely driven by internet and other ICT connections, which are enablers of faster global connectivity, the demand for bandwidth will ever be increasing.

Ka-band is well suited to support the next generation of communication applications, which require large amounts of high-throughout capacity which cannot be met using C- and Ku-band frequency allocations alone.The high bandwidth available in the Ka spectrum and frequency re-use capabilities across multiple beams enables the delivery of more capacity at faster speeds to smaller dishes – opening the door to upgraded services at lower costs.Some satellite Operators have already provided Tier 1 Mobile Operators with high power Ka/Ku-band terminals solutions in anticipation of the arrival of Ka-band satellite services in Africa as the Telcos propel aggressive expansion of converged service offerings throughout the continent. One of the biggest challenges facing the African communications sector is finding new ways to reach rural markets in a cost-effective manner, while also providing users with consistent network reliability. Satellite operators have an important role to play in solving this issue, as satellite technology remains the best choice to serve Africa in terms of coverage and reliability.

Satellite system planning includes the tradeoffs related to critical drivers and constraints, including end-user requirements, satellite capability, launch vehicle requirements, ground segment requirements, competitive offerings, and overall network complexity. An important output of this planning process is the clear definition of a network architecture and deployment strategy that results in a compelling business plan and an optimal risk/return profile for the venture, its partners, and investors.

Satellite Network ventures must include identification and mitigation of market risk, regulatory risk, technical risk, and financing risk.Strategies to mitigate market risk include a strong bias toward cost-effective and flexible network designs, as well as employing early entry strategies. An effective method for dealing with technical risk is to develop a broadband satellite network implementation plan that identifies the validation milestones of the technology. Financing risk can be managed in a number of ways including strong initial financial support from the project sponsors, a realistic expectation regarding achievable equity and debt levels.

Ka-band offers huge potential in a range of market segments, including retail, hospitality, and government initiatives such as emergency communications, rural broadband, telemedicine, and distance education. In addition, capabilities such as bandwidth-on-demand, constant bit services, and dish-to-dish networking enable more advanced applications. As such the most important question confronting anyone thinking about creating a start-up, or marketing any product for that matter, is determining the size of the potential market. The following areas would require careful thinking in any Market Evaluation study :

+ Market size (current and future)
+ Market growth rate
+ Market profitability
+ Industry cost structure
+ Distribution channels
+ Internet Penetration and Traffic models in geographical area
+ The activity of fixed and wireless broadband Telcos
+ Customer propensity to pay per target segment
+ Nature of broadband traffic consumption : voice , video , data , web browsing , P2P
+ Billing models between the post paid and prepaid categories

By cleverly combining the capabilities of a different technologies, a hybrid broadband network architecture can provide high capacity for true broadband services (i.e : ADSL-like services, full triple play delivering telephony, data and video on the same network including the ability for demanding return channel applications) and global coverage at an affordable cost.The various access, distribution and core network technologies include: Wireless: Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), Broadband Fixed Wireless Access (BFWA), Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN), Free Space Optics (FSO), Satellite and Stratospheric platforms .

Satellite operators have an important role to play in solving this Digital Diivide as satellite technology remains the best choice to serve Africa in terms of coverage and reliability. The solution will be intelligent hybrid network designs that leverage fiber roll-outs where they make operational and economic sense with complementary, reliable microwave and satellite solutions where this is not feasible.

The hybrid model can be deployed within weeks to months (depending on scope), serves underserved and unserved areas, and offers immediate connectivity to fulfill the mandates of a National rural broadband program. The most popular satellite broadband access services to date have been those in rural Italy and Spain, often involving a hybrid satellite/WiFi platform. Up to 40 per cent of Spanish satellite installations involve WiFi networks, using commercial WLAN access points which cost less than 1,000 Euros and can cover a radius of up to 1km.

With more capacity available to offer higher speeds at significantly lower costs, next generation satellites can play a more pivotal role in proving broadband access to Africa, especially where mobile broadband is not readily available. The proposed SWANSAT and O3B systems have the potential to play a more significant role than conventional satellite systems.Among the services included with a SWANSAT subscription are free unlimited worldwide voice communications with no international calling fees, worldwide fax services and audio- and video conferencing. Encrypted global positioning system location capabilities and worldwide secure emergency services also are also expected to be part of the subscriber package.Computer networking, intranet services, on-orbit secure and encrypted data, file, and server storage, video and audio entertainment, Direct Broadcast Service programming, retail and wholesale sales, pay-per-view programming, educational and distance learning programming, medical information, and other services will also be provided through one comprehensive world-wide system.

Ofcourse Fibre will eventually play a predominate roll in communications in Africa, especially in global, national backbone and metropolitan networks.With innovative satellite technologies coming into play we expect that, while fibre will play a significantly more predominate role, especially in long distance transmission, satellite systems could play a more significant role in Africa than global trends suggest. Note that , even in areas of the continent where fibre has been deployed, satellite systems are being used for redundancy.

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

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