Gerhard Bethscheider Issue: Africa and the Middle East 2015
Article no.: 9
Topic: Why connectivity should be at the top of everyone’s agenda when it comes to development in Africa
Author: Gerhard Bethscheider
Title: Managing Director
Organisation: SES Techcom Services
PDF size: 212KB

About author

Gerhard Bethscheider was born in Illingen, Germany and has more than 30 years of experience in the domain of Satellite & Ground Segment Engineering. His experience extends to the fields of Research & Development, System Engineering and Management.
He joined SES in 1990 as Manager of the “Earth Station Engineering” section, where he became responsible for the design, development, procurement and implementation of TT&C and Communication infrastructure, satellite ranging & collocation tools, as well as the implementation of SES-ASTRA’s first DVB-S infrastructure.
Since January 2008, Gerhard has held the role of Managing Director of SES Techcom Services, which commercializes satellite solutions and services to an international customer base.

Article abstract

In Africa, approximately 300 million people are more than 50km from a fibre or cable broadband connection and the further from the connection, the worse the broadband quality. Another 400 million people on the continent have no Internet access at all, indicating that around 700 million people have limited or no access to broadband. These figures signify a great opportunity for broadband to help fulfill the promise of development in Africa, with satellite broadband providing a highly efficient means to meet this opportunity due, in part, to its advantage of reach. Africa is a vast continent and many parts of it are not economically viable or even humanly possible to connect via terrestrial means. Consequently, wireless technology is often the most effective way to connect people. 

Full Article

When it comes to talking about connectivity, people tend to refer to more than just Internet and mobile phones. It is for exactly this reason that the conversation about connectivity in Africa needs to become louder and more consistent.

While connectivity in Africa has increased, especially over the last ten years, the level of accessibility remains very uneven. Good coverage is provided by fibre optics along coastal areas but there is limited coverage in the center of the continent. Add to this the relatively expensive cost of satellite capacity – which current research shows will be part of the ICT mix in Africa – and the lack of infrastructure in some areas, and it is clear there is still more work to do.

Sustainability through connectivity
As a result of the situation as it stands entire communities are missing out on the huge range of developmental benefits connectivity can bring. In order to be sustainable, Africa must look at its economy, society and environment; connectivity has a part to play in all three.

The exact role connectivity can play was the subject of just one of the discussions which took place at the European Development Days (EDD) event, held in Brussels in June. Workshops focusing on a series of pressing issues, including health, gender inequality, climate change and migration, made up the two-day event, which also featured a panel titled, ‘Satellite connectivity and public-private partnerships to boost delivery of public goods in Africa’.

All of the speakers at this workshop agreed that satellite technology has massive potential to improve health and education services, as well as other policies, through the adoption of e-health, e-education and even e-agriculture solutions, particularly in remote and unserved regions. SES has been extremely active since 2007 with the EU, in particular in the EU-AU Business Forum, to raise the need for more connectivity Private-Public Partnership (PPP) financial support to help African Governments to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

Why satellite?
As a subsidiary of SES, we naturally agree that satellite provides the perfect way to get broadband to Africa – but what qualities make the technology so ideal?

In Africa, approximately 300 million people are more than 50km from a fibre or cable broadband connection and the further from the connection, the worse the broadband quality. Another 400 million people on the continent have no Internet access at all, indicating that around 700 million people have limited or no access to broadband. These figures signify a great opportunity for broadband to help fulfill the promise of development in Africa, with satellite broadband providing a highly efficient means to meet this opportunity due, in part, to its advantage of reach. Africa is a vast continent and many parts of it are not economically viable or even humanly possible to connect via terrestrial means. Consequently, wireless technology is often the most effective way to connect people.

The reliability satellite offers is another factor which makes the technology among the most suitable for Africa. This is especially important for businesses and enterprises which sometimes struggle with terrestrial coverage which is more prone to service downtime.

Furthermore, satellite can, in most cases, be deployed rapidly, with installation taking a matter of hours once the equipment is available. Once initial deployment has taken place, the infrastructure can be added to easily and cost-effectively.

Additional technology innovations, for example Wi-Fi hot spots, can also be used in conjunction with satellite, boosting connectivity across Africa even further.

Previous success
Examples of where satellite connectivity has helped enrich the lives of people living in Africa before were also referred to by panelists taking part in the workshop.

A project in Uganda, for example, saw Nokia cell phones given to teachers, students and parents. Via anonymous text messaging, pupils could communicate with each other about problems in the school, while teachers were able to monitor attendance and coordinate meeting schedules, improving communication with parents. The result not only improved student participation but also accountability of teachers, who became more open with pupils.

Teacher Media International (TMI) has also seen success with e-learning, with a project in Kenya aiming to train more than 300,000 teachers, initially through face-to-face sessions but eventually through Internet communities – as long as partnerships can be established.

Meanwhile, the benefits consistent and reliable connectivity can bring to healthcare are also clear. For example, the online channel ‘Fight Ebola’, which broadcast educational videos during the Ebola crisis, and Community Life Centres – rural health centers powered by renewable energy, which will require SES satellites for communication.

SES’ e-health platform SATMED is also already improving healthcare in maternity clinics in Africa.

The bottom line is that the massive deployment of ICT and technology driven solutions, including satellite, in education, health and public safety will help governments to cut costs and deliver better quality services.

Beyond connectivity
Evidence of this is already being seen across the continent through the use of our e-health platform SATMED.

Supported by Luxembourg’s government, and including input from medical health professionals, the multi-layer platform is part of the disaster recovery platform emergency.lu to provide worldwide coverage and humanitarian aid. It utilizes satellite technology and the cloud to overcome the barriers of poor connectivity, cost of deployment and lack of interoperability between applications. By integrating multiple applications into one platform, information can be shared and transmitted quickly and easily, bringing significant advances to health care professionals, including not only doctors and nurses but also, health managers, health IT personnel and epidemiologists.

The e-health platform has already been deployed at The Community Hospital Serabu, Sierra Leone, located 52 km southwest of the district capital Bo which has an estimated population of 300,000. The hospital belongs to the Catholic Diocese Bo and our partner German Doctors has a longstanding partnership with them to build ground infrastructures for primary care, as well as special services for infectious diseases, surgery and mother-child-health. Currently, the hospital provides quality health services to six chiefdoms with an estimated population of between 60,000 and 70,000 inhabitants.

The longstanding engagement of German Doctors at Serabu has led to a trusted partnership between local health professionals, long-term staff of German Doctors and their visiting teams. SATMED will further strengthen these collaborations through the exchange of information, e-learning and consultancy programs. In addition, SATMED health records will support the hospital in establishing a modern IT infrastructure and provide tools that allow disease outbreaks to be monitored and new treatment strategies monitored.

A second deployment in West Africa is seeing SATMED being used to improve childbirth healthcare at the Maternité Hospital in Ahozonnoude, in Benin. Training will be delivered online across Africa, enabling midwives and health workers in training to have their performance monitored and evaluated. The end result will be improved healthcare systems at a local, regional and national scale.

Remaining Challenges
If connectivity is already playing such a positive role in Africa, then, why do we need to talk about it further? One area which still needs work is establishing partnerships. This could either be through public provision, private provision or PPPs.

We must also ensure connectivity is accepted as a global public good, that it is used to encourage sustainable development and is accessible for all. Once established as a global public good, this paves the way for business models to be put in place to ensure all providers will offer affordable access for those on low incomes. At the same time, it is important to guarantee the infrastructure is in place to take advantage of this. All Internet users must have access to electricity, for example.

Speaking during the EDD panel, Sierra Leone’s Belgium Ambassador Ibrahim Sorie emphasized the importance of ICT to development, describing measures taken by his government to bring connectivity to all parts of the country. Sierra Leone and other ACP countries want connectivity to be one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

What needs to happen next?
While the UN and the EU are defining the post 2015 development goals, it is of extreme importance that connectivity is delivered to all and is recognized, along with energy, as the only way to accelerate the Development Goals, particularly in regards to teaching teachers, e-education and e-health services. Unfortunately today, the donor funds allocated to reach these ambitious objectives are considering connectivity as a given. It is not – and unless massive support to allow rural areas and all villages to be connected, the issues that exist today will still remain in 2020.

People in Africa are also keen to seize the opportunities offered by ICT and satellite technology but for this to happen a sustainable and accessible ecosystem has to become available for all. The only way that can happen is through the right policies, the right financing instruments and PPPs.

It is to this end that the EU is building a new strategic relationship with Africa, based on mutual interest, with the aim of defining a more systematic approach to the barriers that currently exist in the deployment of connectivity in Africa, for example, the high cost of satellite capacity which we have been trying to reduce by combining satellite with wireless services.

While the initiative is in the early stages, this early discussion represents both hope and promise that the conversation about connectivity in Africa has begun and will not only continue but finally reach full volume.