In some remote parts of South Africa, it is quite easy to feel cut off from the rest of the world. It certainly is true of the World Wide Web. Avid Internet surfers who find themselves off the beaten track in the South African countryside soon discover that Internet availability is scant, and broadband connections are few and far between.
The results of the 2011 South African Census, which were revealed late last year, showed that more than half (or 64,8%) of households in the country still have no Internet access. Most of those households are situated in rural areas, beyond the reach of the country’s telecoms infrastructure, which includes national operator Telkom’s total fibre spanning 143 000 kilometres.
Mobile connectivity is not really an option either, since only about 80% of the population – most of whom are concentrated among urban and developed areas – has access to the cellular operators’ faster 3G signal, according to operator Vodacom’s annual reports.
“Dismal or no Web connectivity, apart from being an annoyance and inconvenience to those always-connected city slickers who venture outside the cities or major towns for weekend getaways and holidays, are a huge obstacle in the way of economic and educational advancement in those rural areas,” says Jaco Visagie, co-director of alternative telecoms provider Skywire Technologies.
“Especially since many of South Africa’s major tourist attractions, such as game lodges, are also situated in isolated areas, where rough terrain and distance often make deployment of any fixed line infrastructure too costly.
“Game lodges and other tourist service providers that can offer their guests fast and reliable Internet – will differentiate them as ideal sites for conferences and for hosting corporate guests – and it will give them a competitive edge.”
Visagie says the most effective solution to bridge the gap and to provide connectivity to such hard to reach, rural places is via satellite – a sentiment which was recently echoed by a representative of Telkom, who pointed out during a media interview that satellite will be effective, working even in the radio black-out zone in the country’s Northern Cape Province.
“Most people are under the misconception that satellite internet is completely unaffordable, but thanks to a recent influx of satellite Internet service providers in South Africa, it has become much more cost effective,” Visagie says.
Referring to his own company’s satellite offering he continues: “SkySat provides affordable, uninterrupted, reliable, high-performance broadband Internet and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services to consumers as well as small businesses, and it works anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
According to Visagie, satellite broadband holds a myriad of advantages. “It is quick to deploy anywhere, there are no last mile connectivity limitations as there is with ADSL, and there is also no risk of cable theft, which is something Telkom customers often endure.”
Visagie says that satellite is particularly beneficial for those industries that require connectivity at remote sites, such as farming communities, game lodges, rural schools, libraries, health clinics, remote construction sites and road maintenance site offices.
“The SkySat is also a pay-per-use offering – no contract required – which makes it an ideal option for disaster recovery, in the event of the regular internet connection experiencing an outage for some reason,” he concludes.