Satellites for Africa


Intelsat is adding to its fleet of satellites orbiting over Africa in the next few years, as it launches three new satellites that will cover the continent.

Flavien Bachabi, Intelsat group VP for Africa, says Africa is a key focus area for the US-based company. It represents 15% of its $2.4 billion revenue, a figure that is set to grow to a larger percentage, ITWeb reports.

Bachabi says Intelsat has a presence in each of the 53 countries on the continent. He explains that satellites can bypass geographical issues – such as mountains and forests – to provide connectivity. “Broadband is a growth area, and the demand is there.”

The technology can also be used to jump-start broadband penetration, as connecting to a satellite in orbit is quicker than laying cables. “When it’s very difficult to go start digging and laying down cable, satellite is the most appropriate.”

Intelsat also sees opportunities to grow broadband penetration in Africa through aligning itself with the cables currently being laid under sea. Bachabi says: “For us, and for mobile operators, it’s an opportunity.” He says satellites can be used to make sure cable connectivity makes it inland.

The continent is to benefit from a 100-fold increase in bandwidth over the next two years through the launch of several submarine cables, including Seacom, which has already landed.

“Cables should not be a threat to satellites,” says Bachabi. He says satellites can provide connectivity faster than cables, and are also used for complementary services. He explains that satellites can also be used as an alternative if a cable breaks, which would take at least a week to fix.

In addition, growing political stability and regulatory relaxation are adding to potential business opportunities, he says. “When the market opens up, it creates more opportunities.”

Growth ahead

Almost half of the company’s 53 satellites cover Africa, and the first new satellite to cover the continent, Intelsat 14, will launch on 14 November. The satellites are geosynchronous orbit satellites, which are fixed 36 000km above the earth, maintaining the same position relative to the Earth’s surface.

Africa, says Bachabi, “is the fastest growing continent in telecommunications”. Currently, 11 satellites are being manufactured, and about a third of these will provide additional coverage over Africa. Intelsat’s infrastructure covers 95% of the continent.

The company is in the middle of its 11-satellite construction and launch programme. Two of the satellites built under the plan, Intelsat 14 and 15, are set to launch in the fourth quarter. Each satellite costs between $200 million and $250 million to manufacture, depending on the size and technology involved.

Last week, Intelsat won a public auction for the ProtoStar 1 satellite, with a $210 million cash offer. The satellite will be renamed Intelsat 25 and will be drifted from its current position to join the other satellites covering Africa.

Intelsat was founded in 1964 as an intergovernmental collaborative between more than 140 countries, including the US and Russia. It has been present in Africa for over four decades, when SA signed up for its services in 1965, the same year it launched its first satellite.

It provides voice, data, video and television services through satellite transmission, as well as backhaul facilities for mobile operators in Africa and elsewhere. It has 1 100 staff in offices in Brazil, Hong Kong, France, Germany, India, Singapore, SA, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the US.