Africa harnesses satellite broadband


A number of key satellite-based services and investments announced this week indicate Africa is harnessing the benefits of satellite-based broadband.

Last week brought statements from SES Astra, which plans to invest R2 billion in satellite broadband; the uptake of Gilat Satellite Network services in Ethiopia; and the launch of the NSS-12 satellite to deliver connectivity across East Africa. In addition, global satellite provider Intelsat plans to expand its coverage across the continent, ITWeb reports.

Speaking at a press conference on the eve of the SatCom 2010 conference, SES Astra COO Alexander Oudendjik explained: “Africa’s vast distances and wide open spaces, as well as predominantly rural landscape, pose unique challenges for content distribution, communication and connectivity on this continent.” Oudendjik argued that satellite-based broadband services may be the more viable option compared to terrestrial and transatlantic fibre connections, which have little or no reach.

Africa offers huge market potential for satellite, which is cheap and offers quick connectivity to Internet as well as VOIP, he stated. SES World Skies, a division of SES SA, said Tuesday it had signed a capacity agreement with Wananchi to deliver direct-to-home (DTH) TV and IP services throughout East Africa.

Set to launch in September, Wananchi’s DTH platform is expected to offer as many as 80 channels over two transponders by year-end. The VSAT networks will enable everything from reliable high-speed Internet access to voice over IP and video conferencing, claims the company. SES Astra committed to providing improved access to broadband and broadcast connectivity across Africa by increasing its satellite capacity to 30 transponders. The company currently runs six transponders on its Astra 4A spacecraft. However, with the launch of its new spacecraft, Astra 4B, in the second half of 2011, the company expects to add another 24 transponders.

Intelsat launched its latest dish over African skies to add coverage to wireless operators, broadband service providers, and media customers. The Intelsat 25, which was renamed after being purchased from ProtoStar, will expand coverage to the continent. Intelsat 25 started service last week, while Intelsat New Dawn will launch this year. Both dishes will add additional Ku-band coverage for Africa.

Finally, Gilat Satellite Networks is providing a broadband satellite communications network to Ethiopian Telecommunication (ETC), Ethiopia’s national telecom operator. The new network, covering hundreds of sites, will provide an upgrade to ETC’s existing Gilat VSAT network and will enable ETC to deliver advanced broadband services, which include video and data-centric applications, to meet the growing demands of its enterprise and government customers.