Exactly one month after South Africa received its first Ka-band satellite signal from space, Vox Telecom has introduced its latest broadband satellite product to a packed auditorium in the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town.
Y1-B is the first satellite of its kind in Africa, weighing in at 6000kgs and orbiting 36 000km from earth. Ka-band satellites transmit many highly focused, overlapping ‘spot beams’, each covering a relatively small area, which allows for access to greater bandwidth at a lower cost. This has enabled Vox, in conjunction with Abu Dhabi-based telecoms group Yahsat, to launch Yahclick, an affordable, high-speed satellite broadband service marketed to both rural and outlying areas in South Africa.
Kevin Viret, the regional director for Yahsat Africa, says the service is crucial. “The broadband penetration for Africa stands at about 13,5% – that includes smartphone and mobile internet access,” he explains. “Even though we’re seeing an increasing number of fibre optic cables being available to the continent, they do not penetrate the interior … and when it does, it is often up ten to twenty times more expensive than that of densely populated coastal areas. We felt that there was a definite need for a ubiquitous, non-terrestrial product in South Africa, which led us to the decision to partner with Vox in this endeavour.”
Ka-band satellites are not new to the rest of the world, Viret explained. There are over 1,5-million broadband satellite subscribers globally, with between 40 000 and 50 000 new subscribers joining on a monthly basis. Australia plans to launch two national broadband satellites for their National Broadband network within the next few months.
“Ku- and C-band satellites have been used for a number of years, but this is South Africa’s first Ka-band satellite. This technology is definitely in line with that of the rest of the globe and the expectation is for 1Tbps of Ka capacity in orbit by 2015.”
Douglas Reed, joint-CEO of Vox Telecom, says: “Our goal is to see the entire country connected. If we don’t act now, the digital divide will continue to increase and put more pressure on the country as a whole.”
Jacques Visser, project manager for YahClick at Vox Telecom, says that the first spot beam tests in Gauteng exceeded initial expectations. “The signal was much stronger than expected, which leads us to believe that the coverage will be broader than anticipated,” he explained. “We will be conducting stretch testing shortly to determine the impact.”
Although the service is expected to provide reliable backup for urban broadband users who may occasionally lose transmission due to cable theft or loss of signal, Visser is particularly excited about the possibilities the service will open up in rural areas.
“There are currently 140 000 users in South Africa still using dial-up, of which 40% spend R600 or more on their connection per month,” Visser says. “We want to bring accessible, affordable internet to those users. We’ve already put hundreds of installation service providers in place around the country (in addition to our existing distribution network), to meet the needs of the customers who will be applying for the service or whom are already on the waiting list. This will not only allow for speedy installations but will give outlying customers access to localised after-sales care and support.”
The service will be made available commercially on 1 August.
The launch also saw the introduction of the YahClick Go mobile satellite unit, a transportable self-searching unit that can be used anywhere. “It can be used by anyone who needs to access the Internet “on the go”,” Visser says. “Broadcasters, disaster management services, events companies and mobile offices for the UN or military are good examples.”
Vox is currently testing the first unit, but hopes to make it available to the general market within the next few months.
“These products are in line with our commitment to remaining agile and innovative,” Reed says. “We believe that this will signify a considerable, transformative shift in the rural community and economy, particularly for schools, hospitals, small businesses, farms and mining companies who have not had access to reliable broadband before.”