Oren Most Issue: Africa and the Middle East 2004
Article no.: 8
Topic: VSAT Networks: Changing Lives in Africa
Author: Oren Most
Title: President and CEO
Organisation: Gilat Satellite Networks
PDF size: 728KB

About author

Mr Oren Most is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Gilat. He was a founder of Cellcom, Israel’s largest and most successful cellular phone company, where he served as Deputy CEO and Head of the Customers Division. Before Cellcom, Mr Most led two successful corporate turnarounds, as CEO of Keter, one of Israel’s largest book publishing and printing companies and as Managing Director of Gibor-Sabrina’s Pantyhose Division. Oren Most’s experience also includes management positions in banking and venture capital in the United States. Mr Most, earned his MBA degree from New York University.

 

Article abstract

In many parts of the world communications infrastructure is either not available or is too expensive to deploy in areas outside the main city centres. This prevents large numbers of people from benefiting from everyday communications services such as telephone connectivity and Internet access. In these areas, satellite-based communication networks stand out as being the best, if not perhaps the only way, to provide communications services. Africa has many good examples of the advantages to be gained from satellite.

 

Full Article

As technology continues to advance and our communications needs are met at the snap of our fingers, we become less and less aware of the networks operating behind the scenes to bring us the services we have come to take for granted. However, in many parts of the world, such luxuries don’t exist. Communications infrastructure is either not available or is too expensive to deploy in areas outside the main city centres, thereby depriving large numbers of people from benefiting from everyday communications services such as telephone connectivity and Internet access. In these areas, the advantages of satellite-based communication networks stand out as being the best, if not perhaps the only way, to provide communications services. African governments are taking the task of ‘bridging the digital divide’ seriously, creating an improved regulatory environment and dedicating the budgets for rural telephony and Internet access projects. Ultimately, the goal is to close the gap between those who live in urban areas and benefit from communications infrastructure and those who do not. Many countries throughout continent, such as South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and Uganda and others, have taken the lead in deregulation, allowing for the introduction of satellite-based Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) technology into their countries. Wishing to meet their Universal Service Obligations (USO) to provide basic communication services to rural areas as they do to urban locations, governments are turning to VSAT technology to rapidly and cost effectively provide solutions. VSAT advantages in Africa It was clear to authorities that standard terrestrial communications networks couldn’t efficiently serve Africa’s remote, outlying areas. VSATs on the other hand, can be deployed quickly and are optimised to meet the challenge of Africa’s dispersed population centres and rugged terrain. VSAT technology is providing an ‘instant infrastructure’ in many African nations by providing benefits such as quick installation (hundreds of sites per month); low initial investment; low per-minute operating costs that enable service providers to offer affordable rates; utilisation of existing satellite technology and frequencies with no topographical barriers. In general, in all parts of the world, there are many reasons why satellite technology is preferable to terrestrial networks in many situations. In Africa, these reasons become even more pronounced. Consider the following: Terrestrial networks are comprised of many hundreds of kilometers of buried cable and building upon building of central switches and equipment. The overhead costs to support this infrastructure (which also includes maintenance personnel, telephone poles, construction crews and equipment and management centres across the country) are very high. Digging up streets to lay new cables or find a problem is both time-consuming and expensive. Another important factor is that terrestrial networks are extremely distance-sensitive. With the vast distances and large areas of sparse population densities, it would be prohibitively expensive to service the whole of Africa with only terrestrial alternatives. The economics of a satellite network, by contrast, are much simpler. The individual VSAT units are relatively inexpensive and can be quickly and easily deployed by a field technician. Hub and satellite costs are shared among thousands of customer sites, so the per-site cost of equipment, maintenance and management is low and it gets lower as more sites are added to the network. Unlike terrestrial services, satellite networks are distance independent. The costs for a satellite network are the same for 1km as they are for 2,000 km or even 10,000 km. In Africa, where we are faced with all types of physical barriers that have to be overcome when deploying terrestrial networks, such as mountains, rivers, jungle and desert, the advantages of satellite directly translate to a lower price for the customer. VSATs in Africa VSAT networks are already well established in several African countries. Thanks to partnerships between VSAT providers, national PTTs, Telcos and service providers, thousands of sites now use VSAT equipment for corporate networking applications, broadband Internet access, rural telephony and distance learning in countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Namibia, Kenya, Angola, Rwanda, Mozambique, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The main markets for VSAT technology are the same in Africa as they are around the world: the corporate/ enterprise market, the rural telephony market and the broadband Internet access market. Within these markets, the applications supported are wide and far ranging. Corporate market The corporate market includes thousands of sites at many of Africa’s leading companies in the airline, lottery and hospitality industries, in addition to institutions such as post offices and government agencies. For these users, VSATs facilitate a wide-area network for their communications, connecting each separate office LAN and providing secure data, voice and video communications – all on one private network. For example, an exciting recent application was the Kenyan Post Offices. Kenya Post selected a VSAT network to connect all of its post offices across the country for both their internal network requirements and, as well, to offer customers access to Internet, e-mail, fax, printer and telephony services through the same network. In addition to the VSAT system itself, every site is built with two kiosk PCs for public use and one commercial PC for the use of the Post Office manager. Each PC supports fax, telephone, printer, Internet access and e-mail services. Access to the kiosks is via prepaid cards sold by the Post Office, the first such application of its kind in Africa. Another example is the South Africa National Lottery, which selected a VSAT backbone network to support some 1,000 sites, because of the superior reliability, ubiquitous availability and broadcast capability of VSAT networks. Also, many banks in Nigeria and South Africa and elsewhere, have selected VSAT technology to connect ATM machines across the country and to implement internal data transfer applications. The reliability, availability, cost and speed of deployment are important factors in the decision to go with VSAT networks. Rural telephony VSATs are ideal for rural telephony applications. In areas with no terrestrial infrastructure, VSAT sites can be deployed in as little as two hours and can provide several public telephone lines as well as Internet access for people who, up to that moment, had no communications services at all, thus truly changing their lives. The VSAT, attached to a pole with solar panels for energy, is generally hooked up to a central location in a village. That spot usually becomes the centre of the town’s activity as people come to use the phones as well as the Internet. These applications are truly some of the best examples of bridging the digital divide. One example of the successful marriage of VSATs and rural networks is the project by Telkom South Africa to initially implement a 3,050-site telephone network to serve tens of thousands of rural customers. More than 1,600 VSAT sites were successfully deployed in the first two months, enabling Telkom SA to carry out its Universal Service Obligation (USO): to provide a large number of rural sites such as rural clinics, post offices, police stations and schools with basic telephone service, where none had existed. Telkom’s rural telephony deployment has since been significantly expanded. Broadband Internet access and distance education projects The need for broadband access is strong in Africa. The continent may very well be one of the fastest growing broadband markets. Small businesses, small office/home office (SOHO) and small to medium-sized enterprises (SME), have a need and a budget for broadband networks; when located outside the main urban areas, they turn to satellite-based solutions. Again using the Telkom SA experience, that company recently introduced a broadband service which offers always-available Internet connectivity and data connectivity for enterprise customers anywhere in South Africa at data rates ranging from 64 kbps download and 16 kbps upload to the top end of 512 kbps download and 128 kbps upload. Illustrating the potential strong demand, over the next five years the network is expected to grow to some 26,000 sites. At that level, it would make this network the largest of its kind in the world. Another application is bringing Internet access to rural schools and making possible continuing university education for rural residents via the Internet. Again, VSAT technology provides a unique solution. Already in place in major projects in Brazil (the governmental GESAC programme has more than 3,000 rural schools linked to the networks) and in Australia (where a government programme through the telecom company Optus has deployed a large VSAT network to allow distance learning for residents in rural parts of the country), Africa too, is a prime location for distance learning and Internet for schools applications. African education officials have begun to embrace VSAT technology. For example, the World Bank recently decided to provide a VSAT network that will bring broadband Internet access to African schools and reach students throughout the continent, especially in Uganda, Senegal, Ghana and Tanzania. Looking ahead VSATs have proven themselves to be a cost effective solution for numerous applications throughout the world. Africa, a continent with tremendous potential and growing demand, is proving to be an important area of business for VSAT vendors and service operators. New technology becoming available will only make the business case even stronger. For example, recently introduced products allow for the use of different VSATs supporting a variety of applications, all on a single hub. This is a revolutionary concept in the industry and one that should expand the business horizons of many service operators. The combination of growing demand, the available technology, the ease of deployment, together with the moves by governments to deregulate, allow communications services to be enjoyed and taken for granted by many people around the world. Telecommunications can soon be part of the day-to-day lives of people living anywhere in Africa.