Internet usage is surging in urban areas of South Africa. According to Stats SA, 59% of South Africans in urban areas use the internet at home, work, or in a public place such as a café.
However, the picture in more remote parts of the country is very different, writes Farhad Khan, chief commercial officer of Yahsat. Here, the availability of internet-enabled services is more limited. But this is beginning to change.
Increasingly, technology is being developed that is helping to deploy more internet coverage. Traditionally, the physical challenge of reaching these communities has meant it is simply not been an option. From a logistical and financial perspective, having a comprehensive land-based system for connecting communities has been beyond anyone’s reach. Yet a solution has come in the form of satellite connectivity, enabling even the most remote communities to take advantage of the same services enjoyed by urban counterparts.
Often for many of these communities, satellite connectivity is giving them a reliable, high speed connection for the first time. By its very nature, satellite communications sidestep the obvious geographical obstacles thrown up by South Africa’s unique terrain. But it is not as simple as aligning the satellite in the right position and broadcasting far and wide.
What is making satellite technology so impactful is the clever method for delivering the capacity. Some satellite broadband connectivity providers are deploying a ‘spot beam’ technique. This means signals are delivered in a highly concentrated way, making it a more efficient way of covering rural communities and areas. It means communities are not served by an inefficient blanket broadcast, rather they have access to connectivity where they use it.
Because of this approach, we are seeing it have an incredibly positive impact on the rural communities that are being served. For example, increased access to internet-based services is revolutionising the way educational tools and materials are shared with local libraries. Teachers are now able to download the latest support materials to help plan lessons, while students can now call upon the internet to help with research studies.
South Africa’s rural unbanked are also reaping the rewards of being connected. The country has one of the largest national pension funds, with some 1.2 million people requiring access to their accounts. Recent figures have suggested as many as 10% of those who are eligible are unaware or unable to access the funds they are entitled to.
The introduction of greater connectivity through satellite communications is helping to combat this. More people are now using the internet to access digital accounts through computers and smart devices. This has been particularly effective in South Africa where the penetration of mobile banking accounts is higher than many other parts of the world.
In the business world too, wider availability of internet-based services is changing commerce in South Africa. One such industry that is being significantly impacted is agriculture. Many rural farmers can be working in complete isolation, even to the point where they are unable to access radio signals. This creates a health and safety issue, as well as inefficiency when managing large teams. Where satellite communications are playing a role is by providing voice and data services. Farmers are now able to stay in touch with colleagues and track where they are at all times, reducing risks and increasing productivity.
While South Africa’s rural communities have a long way to go to enjoy the ubiquity of connectivity the country’s cities have, the signs are there that when it is available, it is being put to incredibly good use. We believe we have only scratched the surface of what can be achieved, and satellite communications looks set to further change the way South Africa approaches healthcare, commerce and entertainment.