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Why satellite is ideal for African connectivity

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Africa is known for its rugged beauty and diverse natural environments. The continent has also seen some of the highest economic growth in the world over the past few years.
This has been despite a lack of existing infrastructure and is largely due to the low base Africa has been growing from, explains Dr Dawie de Wet, CEO of Q-KON, a specialist provider of satellite connectivity solutions. “Africa has enjoyed a steady growth rate upwards of 3% since 2008, with many international organisations investing in the continent. As a result of its unique history, Africa remains largely rural and focused on minerals and mining, and it has only been the past few years that have seen governments across the continent focusing on other industries.
“However, while the Chinese have been building schools and roads, many areas are still unreachable by traditional fixed-line Internet.”
This is why satellite connectivity is filling the gap, and is become a widely used connectivity medium. The very nature of satellite technologies is almost perfectly aligned with the needs of the African market, de Wet says, much more so than any other available infrastructure solution.
“Satellite provides national, regional and even continental signal coverage and enables services to all users and market sectors, regardless of location. Satellite networks provide a direct link from the user to the Internet or core data network. There are no signal repeater stations, no need for backhaul links, no tower infrastructure, and no demand for reliable power to keep the backhaul links operational,” he explains.
In addition, the technology makes rapid deployment simple, at a low cost. “Satellite networks only require two points of investment: one is to build the core network or hub and is typically located at the service provider’s facilities and the second to supply and install the user terminal. There is no need for cost intensive microwave or transmission networks.”
According to de Wet, the new technology innovations and developments that enabled the latest High Throughput Satellite (HTS) networks will also drive changes in cost models. These changes will bring lower cost services and lower equipment costs.
“New HTS services have different cost metrics, which directly lower the cost per Mbps for satellite communication channel links. A cost reduction of more than 50% is expected, leading to delivery of broadband services comparable with current 3G services. In addition, because HTS networks are developed for large scale network deployments with expected user neighborhoods of 100 000 terminals and more, this will drive cost reduction in equipment manufacturing, leading to reduced user terminal costs.”
He adds that the higher demand for the technology will change the way the industry operates too. “The new HTS technology will require higher start-up investment and much more aggressive brand and marketing campaigns. This will lead to larger service providers entering the sector, bringing more economies of scale and cost benefits to the user.”
Satellite services meet very specific needs in the market, and even at a user base of hundreds of thousands, these networks are still much smaller than the millions of users typical of GSM networks. Users therefore need specialist service providers to ensure they get the most out of the technology.
“Meeting quality-of-service demands, network uptime criteria, and application SLA levels requires a sound and proper understanding of satellite technologies. This includes advantages, limitations and risks. Specialist providers like Q-KON have the engineering teams with the skills and experience to deal with the small day-to-day challenges of a niche technology network,” de Wet says.
“For every user, a satellite terminal must be supplied, delivered, installed and commissioned. For a network of hundreds of thousands of terminals, this requires very strong project management and implementation delivery resources and experience. Successful satellite service providers have the capability to successfully execute site roll-out programs in multiple countries and in all environments.”
He adds that end user satisfaction is directly dependent on the quality of the service. For broadband services, this is absolutely critical to ensure that user-cost vs service-performance is optimised. “Only service providers like Q-KON, who specialise in satellite networks, fully understand the metrics and constraints of providing the optimum user quality of service experience,” de Wet concludes.