Satellite broadband to supplement fiber in Africa

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-12-19 9:36:07

The use of satellite technology to transport broadband is expected to re-emerge in Africa following realization that it will take years and billions of dollars to lay fiber optic cables especially in urban residential and rural areas.

Since the first submarine fiber optic cables landed in Kenya in 2009, there are countable homes that are directly connected to the cables.

Those largely connected are urban-based commercial buildings, government facilities, education buildings and high income residential areas.

"Satellites are now being used to supplement fiber optic cables. There are places the cables will take years to reach and yet those areas require cheaper and faster broadband as well," said David Williams, the Chief Executive Officer of Avanti Communications, a satellite broadband service provider in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.

While cable infrastructure has been laid in middle income estates of Nairobi like Buru Buru and Kasarani, direct connections to homes and buildings is yet to happen as service providers opt to connect the high income residences first.

It means it will take many more years for low income estates to get connected. The services currently being offered through fiber include pay television and internet and government services.

The delay in connecting fiber cables directly to homes is partly attributed to the high cost of laying the cables. Although there is no data on the cost of laying the cables in Africa, the cost averages 250 US dollars per meter in London.

The cost of laying fiber cable networks in Africa may be slightly lower because of the lower labour costs.

But it is this delay that is leading to the rethink of entirely depending on fiber optic cables to deliver cheaper and faster broadband to urban and rural areas that is leading to a rethink by policy makers.

According to a research carried out by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization in October, deployment of new satellite technology development using technology similar to that of mobile phones, known as Ka-band satellites, could be the most viable way to offer dedicates broadband access in sub-Saharan Africa.

The research entitled, "The Socioeconomic Impact of Broadband: the Satellite Advantage" found that low cost satellite networks complement in a practical way the terrestrial and submarine cable networks and enhance the broadband delivery.

"Satellite broadband is the key to achieving rural access, as it is not hampered by the challenges faced by fiber networks."

"Satellite broadband, particularly through Ka?Cband satellites, could play an important role in meeting African governments' broadband targets, such as increasing broadband penetration to approximately 80 per cent of Africans by 2020," notes the research report.

Satellite broadband as widely discarded in the last five years in Africa after the entry of the fiber optic cables because they were cheaper and more reliable. But since then, new forms of satellite technology that also deliver low cost and reliable broadband have come into the market.

"The previous satellites were development with the television technology in mind. Today, the Ka-band satellite for instance has been developed with the mobile telephone technology and is therefore able to deliver cheaper and low cost broadband," said Williams.

His company has launched a satellite this year that covers the whole of East Africa with planned expansion to West Africa.

The new satellite technology is seen as a solution to the efforts by governments in the region to implement e-governance projects where government services are offered remotely in the rural areas.

The technology will also come in handy in the planned interconnection of national healthcare system.

The satellites are easily deployable even in the remote areas making them ideal for arid and semi arid areas of East Africa that have poor transport and communication infrastructure.

Availability of cheaper and faster broadband is seen as a prerequisite to narrowing the digital divide and empowering communities to use information communication technology to improve their livelihood.

According to a World Bank research released in 2009, in low income countries, a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration accelerates economic growth by 1.4 percent.

Among the first applications of the technology in Cape Town South Africa is its use in a public project known as "Working for Water" program run by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

The Working for Water program aims to combat invasive alien plants, the single biggest th reat to South African biodiversity.

The satellite will provide data connectivity to support the research and monitoring aspects of the program in both urban and remote locations across South Africa.

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