Dave Rehbehn Issue: Africa and the Middle East 2015
Article no.: 6
Topic: Universal Broadband via Satellite
Author: Dave Rehbehn
Title: VP, Marketing, International Division
Organisation: Hughes Network Systems
PDF size: 207KB

About author

Mr. Rehbehn is the senior director responsible for global marketing of Hughes’ broadband products and services. In this capacity, he develops Hughes market strategy, including product and service offerings, and is responsible for the strategic direction for the Hughes international sales force. Mr. Rehbehn works extensively with end users and service operators to track market trends, including application and business developments, and their impact on networking solutions.

Mr. Rehbehn has more than 25 years experience in the satellite arena including business development for the Hughes set-top box product family, as well as the Hughes consumer Internet service business. Prior to his current role in the International Division, Mr. Rehbehn was responsible for enterprise sales for the southeast region of the United States and worked closely with many of the US-based Fortune 1000 companies to develop network solutions tailored to their needs. Prior to his marketing and business development responsibilities, he supported the engineering development of wideband time division multiple access (TDMA), packet networks, and TDMA very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite network projects at HNS.

Mr. Rehbehn holds a computer science degree from the University of Maryland, USA.

Article abstract

The ability of mobile operators to quickly and cost effectively offer data services via satellite in rural areas has immediate and significant social and economic impact for the people in these regions. According to studies by the World Bank and other economic organizations*, it has been demonstrated that the introduction of these technologies improves productivity and economies at a faster pace. It is estimated that a ten percent increase in mobile phone penetration in a country increases the economic growth in the range of .6% to 1.5% in developing and developed countries, respectively. Thus, bringing connectivity to developing and rural areas is an important element in economic development. 

Full Article

Many people might not realize that today broadband is available virtually anywhere across Africa and the Middle East. This ubiquitous service is not available via terrestrial networks, but rather through a variety of satellite services.

Achieving universal broadband coverage throughout the Africa and Middle East region using only terrestrial services is a nearly impossible task and will not be achieved in our lifetimes. The basis for this statement comes from the lessons learned in the developed parts of the world, most notably the United States, where there are over 1.6 million households who are underserved by terrestrial broadband service providers. These underserved households turn to satellite for access to broadband services and this same technology is already available in the Africa/Middle East region.

Why Satellite Broadband?

Satellite technology has several attributes which makes it a compelling solution for broadband services. The first is that satellite broadband services can be delivered anywhere within the coverage area of the satellite. The “footprint” of satellites is typically quite large, meaning that they cover a large geographic area. People anywhere within a satellite’s footprint can gain immediate access to broadband services.

Another attribute that makes satellite attractive is the simplicity and ease of installing a very small satellite terminal, called a “VSAT” (very small aperture terminal) or “remote terminal.” As illustrated in Figure 1 below, the VSAT is a compact device consisting of an outdoor unit (the antenna and radio) and an indoor unit (the router or modem). The VSAT enables one or more users to gain broadband access via satellite. The typical VSAT installation can be done within two to three hours.

[Insert photo of satellite dish at school in Africa]

Figure 1. Typical Remote Satellite Terminal Installation

New Satellite Technology Lowers the Costs

Satellite technology has been around for a long time, starting in the early 1960s with the Hughes-built Early Bird/Intelsat 1 geostationary satellite that ushered in commercial satellite communications. Beyond carrying telephone, voice, and fax transmissions between North America and Europe, Early Bird introduced the much larger business potential of satellite television, vividly demonstrated by live TV coverage of the Gemini 6 spacecraft splashdown in December 1965. Until recently, satellites were optimized for television broadcast applications, covering as large an area as possible. In other words, they were designed for coverage versus capacity.

But recently, a new class of satellites, dubbed “High Throughput Satellites” (HTS) has been launched. HTS satellites achieve greater capacity through multiple spot beams so that frequency can be reused. As illustrated in Figure 2, these satellites utilize a design similar to that used by the cellular industry, whereby spot beams are separated from one another by a combination of frequency and polarization. In fact, these techniques are not new to the satellite industry and have been employed in a number of satellite designs. The difference now is the use of smaller beams, which enables a greater overall number of beams and thus a higher level of frequency reuse.

Figure 2. Satellite Frequency Reuse to Achieve High Capacity

This new class of satellites creates significant amounts of capacity relative to conventional satellites. Since the cost of an HTS satellite is only slightly higher than a conventional satellite, the cost of the satellite capacity – or the bandwidth – is significantly lower. This lower cost enables service providers to offer cost-effective broadband services using satellite.

HTS Services into Africa/Middle East

A number of satellite companies have either launched or are planning to launch HTS capacity that enables cost-effective delivery of broadband services into a wide range of markets. One of the earliest HTS entrants was Yahsat, with their introduction of Yahclick services throughout the Africa and Middle East region in 2012. The map in Figure 3 illustrates the countries within the region where Yahclick services are available. Yahsat has established multiple local service providers within each of these countries. The local providers are responsible for direct sales of the Yahclick service within their region, which enables broadband subscribers to obtain services and pay their bills via a local service provider. The service has been successful enough that Yahsat has plans to launch another high throughput satellite in 2016 that will enable the company to extend its services into a wider range of countries throughout the region.

Figure 3. Yahclick Coverage Areas

Avanti Communications is another satellite operator providing broadband services throughout Africa and the Middle East. With two satellites in operation and an additional two planned, Avanti will be able to provide virtually ubiquitous coverage over the region as illustrated in Figure 4 below.

Figure 4. Coverage Areas of Avanti Hylas Satellites

Yahsat and Avanti are just two of the satellite operators bringing broadband to the region. The Arabsat 5C satellite, operated by Arabsat of Saudi Arabia, has high throughput capacity covering Saudi Arabia and the Levant countries. Later this year, Arabsat will launch the BADR 7 satellite that will bring additional high throughput capacity over the region. Also later this year, Spacecom of Israel will be launching the Amos 6 satellite which brings yet more capacity and coverage over the region.

A very common application for satellite broadband in the region is to facilitate the delivery of broadband access to the Internet, whether for an individual consumer or a small- to medium-sized business. The Yahclick services offered by Yahsat are a good example of these kinds of services and include a range of options for various speeds and data allowances similar to the speeds and allowances offered via cellular 3G and 4G service plans.

Cellular Services Enabled by Satellite

Satellite and terrestrial services do not compete against one another. Rather, satellite complements terrestrial services. Satellite backhaul for cellular services is an excellent example of how they work together.

Backhaul is a terminology in cellular infrastructure deployment that refers to the methodology of connecting the edge subsystems (base station or BTS in the GSM world) to the core network (base station controller or BSC in GSM). Satellite can be used to enable a backhaul connection from a base station anywhere in the footprint of the satellite back into the core network and this means that satellite backhaul enables mobile operators to cost effectively extend their services into very rural and hard to serve areas. Figure 5 below shows a VSAT being used to backhaul cellular traffic from a large base station.

Figure 5. Satellite Backhaul of Cellular Traffic

There are significant challenges in bringing cellular services to ‘hard to serve’ or rural areas. Mobile operators initially target affluent cities and communities with a high density of subscribers; the lower density rural areas are not as well connected. Urban communities, with good terrestrial infrastructure such as fibre and the power grid, are well connected. But the “hard to serve” areas, including rural areas, islands, ocean vessels and airplanes, are often times served most effectively with satellite communications.

The ability of mobile operators to quickly and cost effectively offer data services via satellite in rural areas has immediate and significant social and economic impact for the people in these regions. According to studies by the World Bank and other economic organizations*, it has been demonstrated that the introduction of these technologies improves productivity and economies at a faster pace. It is estimated that a ten percent increase in mobile phone penetration in a country increases the economic growth in the range of .6% to 1.5% in developing and developed countries, respectively. Thus, bringing connectivity to developing and rural areas is an important element in economic development.

Looking Forward

This is an exciting time in satellite communications. Today, high throughput satellites are delivering cost-effective satellite services throughout Africa and the Middle East, and more of these satellites will be launched in the coming years. In addition, there is another class of satellites planned to be launched in 3-5 years, so called “LEO” (low earth orbit) satellites, which have the potential to bring yet more capacity to the entire world. These satellites and their cost-effective ability to deliver broadband services anywhere hold great promise to change the broadband landscape in the Africa and Middle East region.