|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2004|
|Topic:||Changing the Way Africa Communicates|
|Organisation:||UUNET Africa Operations|
Guy Clark is the Director of UUNET, Africa Operations and COO of the UUNET/Africa Online Joint Venture, in Nairobi. After restructuring the venture, Mr Clark returned to South Africa, where he is now responsible for all of the company’s African operations. Mr Clark is currently the Executive Director on the board of the Joint Venture Company between UUNET SA and Africa Online, as well as the Director of UUNET companies within Mauritius, Kenya, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.
African businesses rely heavily on e-mail, Internet and VPN connectivity as key tools in conducting business, giving rise to numerous opportunities. However, the needs of Africa are very different from those in more developed regions and satellite solutions continue to be material in solving a number of business communication problems. The continent has many development opportunities and, by taking advantage of what has been learned throughout the world by ICT service providers, universal communication capabilities can soon be a reality for the continent.
Globally, there has been a steadily growing acceptance of the value of satellite Internet connectivity, not only because of its reliability, consistency and stability, but also due to its sustainable use as a business communications tool, especially in remote or congested areas. African businesses rely heavily on e-mail, Internet access and VPN (virtual private network) connectivity as key tools, giving rise to numerous opportunities, to conduct business both locally and internationally. However, these markets can only afford so much in terms of technology infrastructure. In these markets one finds that the terrestrial or wireless bandwidth capabilities are limited due to high costs, the lack of reach associated with the locally available technology, limitations of the service delivery platform or the service delivery partner. Therefore, when a company’s network limit is reached, business activity and growth is stifled, as the network is either slowed dramatically or simply cannot cope with the growing business needs. The congestion of e-mail and other applications that results, adversely influences business efficiency, provides a poor customer service experience and makes it difficult to adapt to changing market needs. Together, these problems hurt both a business’s competitive edge and its bottom line financial results. Globally, the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for VSAT solutions is approximately 20 per cent; there are now close to 800,000 VSAT satellite installations deployed worldwide. The increasing acceptance of VSAT is not due only to the technology’s inherent ability to deliver high speed Internet, IP-VPN connectivity and improved time to market. VSAT growth is also the result of investment, by companies, like ours, in using the technology to effectively deliver innovative, flexible and reliable business solutions for Africa. Businesses in Africa require the ability to communicate to all the links in their value chain – with their customers, suppliers and employees – no matter where they are located. They need to be assured of service stability, which, in turn, will help facilitate communications and business efficiencies. Satellite solutions answer these needs; they can help materially to resolve a number of business communication problems and can co-exist harmoniously with a wide range of existing network solutions. The impact that satellite network solutions will have on the African continent are numerous and exciting. The fact that more than 60 per cent of all ISPs connected on the African continent use satellite solutions to ensure effective service delivery to customers is proof of this. Opportunities are created by the flexible solutions that satellites bring: multicasting information to update applications; communicating consistent brand messages to all points of presence at the same instant; making educational opportunities available to all; enabling Internet or telephony access for workers in the field; and many others. Satellites can reach across value chains, enabling true communication. The implementation of this technology will ensure Africa’s success. It will lead to increased productivity, sustainable development, skills transfer and accelerated social development. It will open the world of education or the world of business, or even a world of art and culture to millions who were never before able to make even a simple call or access the Internet. Satellite connectivity gives businesses the ability to improve customer services, to cost effectively deliver products and services using transaction-orientated solutions and provide high quality service quality at every customer touch point. The benefits of satellite technology in Africa The benefits of satellite technology in Africa should be examined from both a technical perspective and an economic perspective to be understood. As to its technical benefits, satellite: complements existing infrastructure mechanisms is reliable and provides a stable network connection provides efficient network structures and availability for increased service functionality allows for a multi-faceted approach to the delivery of business solutions across the value-chain and enables the use of a variety of platforms to serve the varied aspects of an organisation’s business model. These technical benefits, understood in terms of the needs of Africa’s countries, indicate the sort of impact that satellite technology will have on the continent. What do these technical benefits mean for businesses? They will: enable businesses to improve their time to market for new service solutions address mission critical business communication and continuity requirements provide more reliable communications with customers, suppliers and vendors increase productivity and deliver an enhanced service experience due to increased availability and reach facilitate the widespread rollout of applications decrease downtime. One of the main challenges is that the needs of Africa are very different from those of more developed regions. Because of Africa’s cultural and geographical diversity, the deployment of ICT and applications will have to be specifically tailored to meet the region’s needs. Providers of business solutions realise that to address these challenges they need to take the initiative and educate the continent regarding the selection of the appropriate technologies, including satellite communications, that truly meet the local needs of each African market. To this end, suppliers need to be involved in the process, the discussion, of regulatory development of each country to promote proven, effective solutions. Satellite technology enables a number of different communication options, especially from a network management perspective, by enabling: flexible and scalable bandwidth configuration increased flexibility and reach hybrid applications with guaranteed throughput to limit or relieve congestion on complementary networks multimedia transmission of voice, text, data, Internet and content rich multimedia applications cost efficiencies derived from more efficient routing of traffic. Satellite technology and socio-economic development Despite the dramatic developments that have taken place in the ICT sector throughout the continent over the past decade, including the exponential growth of mobile telephony and the entry of Internet into every African country, there is little said about what has been successful and why. There is a large disparity between the network capacity available in Africa and the rest of the world. The teledensity in Africa is the lowest of all the regions in the world. In fact, Africa accounts for less than two percent of the world’s total telephones and barely half of one percent of the world’s Internet host computers. Today, many of Africa’s countries are investing in telecommunications, but much remains to be done to bring ICT to everybody’s doorstep. Since much of Africa’s population resides in remote regions, service delivery can be quite difficult. Currently, the entire continent has only some 40-million cellular subscribers, 25-million fixed line subscribers and 6.5-million Internet users. Satellite solutions will, if implemented correctly, boost these statistics and make universal access to communications services a reality for the African continent. When we look at countries such as Nigeria, which operates mostly with satellite solutions, we find that this technology, which enables effective and efficient communication, has played a fundamental role in the development of the country over the past few years. Nigeria has seen an important, fundamental, increase in job creation; satellite technology has created an entirely new industry. This growth can be attributed to: the high levels of service quality that satellite technology enables a managed deregulation process the economic stimulation of the economy through job creation the availability of a solid communications vehicle with which to trade with the rest of the world new business opportunities for Nigerian satellite users that enable them to expand and develop. Ethiopia provides another great example of how satellite technology, through its education sector initiative, has helped national development. Satellite communications have given Internet access to most secondary institutions and schools in Ethiopia, making distance learning a reality for the nation’s youth. Kenya has a similar initiative, its ELIMU Net project, for distance education. Satellite technology is now in use in most of the country’s Universities. Initiatives such as these have given students access to a wealth of information and training and are helping prepare the country’s youth to participate in the local portion of the global economy’s job market. Conclusion Africa has tremendous potential and many development opportunities wait to be explored. Africa, by heeding the experience of other countries and of organisations throughout the world, can learn from the pioneering efforts of others and use this opportunity to accelerate its own development. By taking advantage of the experience of telecommunications service providers throughout the world, the dream of universal access to world-class telecommunications can soon become a reality for the continent. African countries focusing on telecommunications growth also need to look at the many excellent projects already undertaken or being implemented across the continent for insight into and understanding of, how the issues of continental development can best be tackled. By emulating the continent’s best practices for technical and infrastructure development much can be done to alleviate the isolation and lack of education and structural inefficiencies, that plague the live of Africa’s citizens. This will ensure: that ICTs are used effectively to socially, economically and politically uplift the population rapid strengthening of Africa’s economic value chain locally and internationally the creation of a competitive and efficient business environment. African development will depend upon educational initiatives, making good use of available technology, heeding the many lessons learnt by the rest of the world and, importantly, taking advantage of the opportunities that information and communication technology bring to take part in the global economy and information society.