BY: Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in Government Editor.

While the high cost of deploying satellite technology has traditionally been an “issue”, new network design approaches will ensure the price comes down.

This is according to Rhys Morgan, Intelsat regional vice-president, EMEA media and networks sales.

Satellite technology has often been considered as the solution to provide ubiquitous internet access to the remote, hard to reach locations of the African continent.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Africa remains the least connected region, with only 40% of the continent’s population being online.

Regions such as Asia and the Pacific boast internet penetration levels above 60%, with Europe remaining the most connected region globally, ITU data shows.

Within this context, investing in satellites has been touted among the mix of technologies that can deliver connectivity to African nations, whose geography is often considered tough to reach.

Affordable connectivity

In an interview with ITWeb, Morgan acknowledges the way networks have been designed historically hasn’t been as optimal as they could be.

However, Intelsat – the operator of the world’s largest integrated satellite and terrestrial network – is looking at steps to reduce costs.

“We’re taking some new design approaches that are bringing the cost down,” states Morgan. “We’re working with people on the ground as well. The terrestrial infrastructure has been a challenge, in terms of costs, so we’re working with people to bring that cost down.”

Other cost-saving measures include how satellites are powered and sustained, he adds.

“For example, at AMN [Africa Mobile Networks], all of their cell sites are exclusively solar-powered. If you’re somewhere where on-grid connectivity is not perfect, a lot of their cell sites can be sustained just with solar panels.

“We are looking for alternative sources of power with our customers as well. There are different ways of looking at it, but I would agree the traditional way of viewing it has meant cost has been an issue.

“I do believe that with the innovation – both in terms of design and equipment – we’re getting to a place where costs are really coming down. Therefore, the accessible market and the utility satellite increases.”

African countries have launched their own satellites for research, communications, navigation, or climate services. It is predicted 23 African countries will have about 125 satellites in orbit by 2025.

On the continent, Intelsat has offices in SA, Kenya and Senegal, as well as people on the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with its satellites providing services to media and network businesses.

In South Africa, Intelsat counts DStv and Sentech as partners, and works with tier one telcos such as Vodacom, Orange, Airtel, MTN, etc.

In the DRC, the company works with AMN, which provides connectivity to rural and small villages, with a population of 2 000 people or less.

“They [AMN] are driving connectivity into places where typically mobile operators have not really arrived – whether that’s because of their business model, or that it doesn’t work in some of these places, or they’re interested in 5G rather than rural expansion.

“That growth continues through the course of this year. They’re expecting to build many hundreds of towers in multiple different countries across the continent this year.”

Responding to how geopolitical and global macro-economic conditions influence the satellite industry, Morgan notes that supply chain issues caused by the pandemic have a definite impact.

However, for governments or some of the large companies in Sub-Saharan Africa, their budgets are often in surplus.

Therefore, there is more appetite to invest in infrastructure, he reveals. “We’ve got a diversified business; we often see that a macro-economic event may, on one hand, cause us some challenges, but on the other hand, it provides some opportunities for us.

“What we’re seeing broadly is more desire to invest in infrastructure and more desire to connect more people. The large cities, the mega cities and large towns across the continent have got great connectivity and prices are coming down.

“People are looking at innovative ways of connecting most groups in society, but now the focus is turning outside of the urban populations.

“I think here government and regulators are playing an important role because the regulators are flexing their muscles and saying companies with licences…have to cover a larger territory of the country.

“That’s welcomed because in the past the regulators have been a little bit too nice with certain people, and haven’t necessarily pushed them to extend outside of suburban and peri-urban areas, which I think is much-needed.”


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