Tag Archives: Africa internet

Connectivity to the Masses: Satellites for Africa

o3b satellites africa

Africa’s demand for bandwidth is doubling every year, outpacing the laying of terrestrial telecom fibre links and encouraging commercial satellite operators to launch more units into orbit.   The arrival of submarine cables on Africa’s eastern shore just five years ago (see e.g. Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy)) was largely expected to herald the end of satellite connections, which had been the region’s only link to the outside world for decades.  But the opposite is happening with Africa’s political geography – notably its many landlocked countries, such as Zambia, South Sudan and Rwanda – bringing undersea cable plans back to earth.

“If you are to provide connectivity to the masses, fibre is not the way to do it. Do you think that it would make economical sense to take fibre to every village in Kenya?” said Ibrahima Guimba-Saidou, a senior executive for Africa at Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES SA “Satellite is still around and will continue to be around because it’s the best medium to extend connectivity to the masses.”  Hundreds of millions of people on the continent still have no access to the Internet, he said….

SES, one of the world’s largest commercial satellite operators, expects to launch its Astra2G satellite in 2014 after sending three others dedicated to Africa into orbit in the last year. Nine of its 56 satellites orbiting the earth are allocated for Africa.  Europe’s biggest satellite operator Eutelsat plans to fire off its tri-band EUTELSAT 3B this month after launching another to extend sub-Saharan Africa coverage in 2013.

The demand for Internet and data services in Africa has been driven by affordable mobile broadband connections. Mobile broadband users could grow by nearly eight times to 806 million by the end of 2018, according to Informa estimates.  New services such as digital television, onboard Internet connection for passenger aircraft, and delivering education and health services electronically will also drive demand.

The private sector has several initiatives to extend the capacity from submarine cables inland using terrestrial cables, but until that bottleneck is addressed, satellite operators are innovating to plug that black hole. One operator, O3B, or Other 3 Billion, has launched four of the next-generation medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites and plans two other launches in 2014 to make an orbital constellation of 12.  At a height of 8,000 kms (5,000 miles), the MEO units allow for faster speeds than traditional stationary satellites at 36,000 kms.  O3B’s tests have delivered capacity five times better than what traditional satellites can manage, making its technology suitable for both voice and interactive applications, said Omar Trujillo, vice president for Africa and Latin America….”A lot of applications for mining, oil and gas, will continue to be done by satellite,” he said. “The main market may not be international links for Nairobi or Johannesburg but will be communication for some of these remote areas that have had very low demand before, but now have fast-growing demand.

Excerpts from Helen Nyambura-MwauraAFRICA INVESTMENT-Africa’s hunger for data sends satellites into orbit, Reuters, Apr. 17, 2014

The Virgin Digital Land and the Google Monopoly

Online Africa is developing even faster than the new highways of offline Africa. Undersea cables reaching Africa on the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts, plus innovative mobile-phone providers, have raised internet speeds and slashed prices. In some African markets you can buy a daily dose of internet on a mobile phone for about the cost of a banana (ie, less than ten American cents). This burgeoning connectivity is making Africa faster, cleverer and more transparent in almost everything that it does.

Google can take a lot of the credit. The American search-and-advertising colossus may even be the single biggest private-sector influence on Africa. It is not just that its internet-search and e-mail are transforming Africa. Take maps. Before Google, ordinary Africans struggled to find maps. Military and civilian mapping offices hoarded rolls of colonial-era relics and sold them at inflated prices. By contrast, Google encourages African developers to layer maps with ever more data. In Kenya 31,000 primary schools and 6,900 secondary schools are marked on Google maps. Satellite views even let users see if the schools have built promised new classrooms or water points. Similar initiatives let voters verify local voting figures at election time. Satellite views of traffic jams have also shamed some African cabinets into spending more on city infrastructure.

Google has also pepped up Africa’s media, enabling Africans to read each other’s newspapers. Google is improving translation software to bring more Africans who speak only local languages online. As well as English, French, Portuguese and Arabic, it offers Zulu, Afrikaans, Amharic and Swahili. Languages like Wolof, Hausa, Tswana and Somali are set to follow.

Faster downloading speeds have helped make Google’s YouTube video-viewing more popular. Young urban Africans organise YouTube parties. The company is also trying to help African governments digitise information and make it freely available to their citizens. Many rulings in the higher courts of Ghana, for instance, are going online.

Yet critics complain that Google is buying up enormous amounts of virgin digital land in Africa at virtually no cost. Within a couple of decades, without the regulatory oversight of the African Union or African governments, they say, Africa’s internet life will be almost entirely in hock to the Google giant. Even the company’s decision to go slow on seeking profits from Africa by offering cheap deals has been attacked by African would-be rivals, which say that such tactics are only extending Google’s unfair advantage.

Google says its recent effort to best a rival South African firm, Mocality, was an embarrassing aberration. Google’s top man in Africa, Joe Mucheru, brushes aside fears of a monopoly. The company’s advertising model, he says, helps African business. “The more Google grows, the more the entire ecosystem grows.” He is especially keen on Google+, a service that seeks to provide an even more useful online community than Facebook

Google in Africa: It’s a hit, Economist, May 12,2012, at 57