|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2004|
|Topic:||Long live the Network!!!|
|Author:||Marco Daniel Signorini|
|Title:||Chief Executive Officer|
|Organisation:||Econet Satellite Services Limited|
Marco Daniel Signorini is the Chief Executive Officer of Econet Satellite Services Limited. Marco joined Econet Wireless Holdings and moved upward in the organisation through a series of increasingly important executive posts in several African subsidiaries and in the UK. Under Marco, the company has grown from a team of five to be a major African player in the international arena, with branch offices in France and South Africa and a global portfolio of clients and business partners. Marco also serves, currently, as the Sales director of Worldstream and as a member of its executive committee. Marco began his career as an engineering consultant specialising in jet engines.
We can expect more progress during the next ten years than during the last 100. Two areas, nanotechnology and the blue laser, will contribute to dramatic advances in information and communication technology by making digital processing and bandwidth more powerful and cost effective. With these advances, satellites will be able to provide enough bandwidth for everybody on Earth. This will accelerate the worldwide communications revolution and help bring affordable services to almost everyone in the Africa and Middle East region.
Over the last one hundred years we have seen technology progressing faster than in any period before that. The introduction of steam, electricity, flight, television, computers have had a profound effect on our lives. Recent trends in technological development clearly suggest that the next 10 years will see even greater achievements. Arthur C. Clarke, physicist and science fiction writer, was the first to understand that satellites in ‘geo-stationary’ orbits, those that appear to be stationary relative to the Earth, were possible. He present this idea to the world in language that the common man could understand in an amazing article in the 1945 October issue of Wireless World. (http://www.lsi.usp.br/~rbianchi/clarke/ACC.ETRelaysFull.html). At that time, radio was the only means of wireless communication and it was thought that radio waves could not penetrate the ionosphere. Clarke showed that microwaves would not bounce off the ionosphere, but go straight through it. Since it was theoretically possible to put a satellite in orbit, it would also be possible to communicate with it using microwave frequencies. The communications satellite is now a reality and, as mentioned above, we are likely to see still more spectacular technological developments in the next ten years. It will require visionaries to see the way forward and convergence will be one of the most important elements of progress. Two areas of science, nanotechnology and the blue laser (gallium nitride diodes) should help dramatic advances in information and communication technology. First, nanotechnology will make it possible to manufacture computer processors one thousand times faster and cheaper than those we are using today. These chips or processors will be microscopic in size, but very powerful. Second, most optical devices and networks, until now, have used red laser. Blue laser, at the upper end of the light spectrum, will give us about 70-times more capacity than we presently have, so a CD will hold 70-times more data and optical networks will have 70-times more capacity. Currently, satellites have relatively limited capacity, but as we move up to higher and higher frequencies – including into the light spectrum – there will be an abundance of bandwidth available. In the old days of analogue television an entire 36 Mhz satellite transponder might have been required for a single satellite television channel. Digital channels will require about one tenth of this capacity. This and the advent of both more powerful processors for digital transmission and of laser technology, means that there will be enough spectrum/bandwidth for everybody on the planet Earth provide we develop the technology to exploit it. What is the significance of all this to communications in the Africa and Middle East regions you might ask? Just as we had the great Industrial Revolution in Europe and America we are on the threshold of the great Worldwide Communications Revolu-tion. In early days, the average person in most countries could hardly afford a horse, let alone the cost of a train ride. Today previously disadvantaged communities now use public transport to get them to and from their place of work. Flying was out of reach for almost all, but today we take it for granted. So too will it be with communications and related devices, even mobile telephones, as the growing numbers of service providers and users in all regions make evident. Investors in telecommunications, I believe, may not have seen the bigger picture. Not many of them are visionaries, as was Arthur C Clarke. They see a GSM network and want a comprehensive business plan, due diligence etc., etc., before parting with their money. They invest in networks, but not in people. They cannot see where the convergence of technologies is leading. They see the bottom line and not much else. … if only they had vision! By utilising the available technologies we are able to reach places and people far more easily than ever before possible. We could be investing in community education and building relationships with customers of the future. If investors were to invest in an infrastructure that converged all the needs of a given society into a ‘single platform’ I predict they would have the recipe for unimaginable success. They would be able to tap into markets they never perceived as being lucrative. First, they must build the network. This can be done at moderate cost using satellite and wireless technology. A single global satellite footprint can reach about one third of the earth’s surface and can reach many countries on several continents. Unlike fibre, satellites are not limited to select geographical points. The cost of reaching the world’s vast population with satellite transmission is only a small fraction of what it would be with fibre. Satellite-based, ‘single platform’ systems could deliver education to masses of people, include government departments all over the world. In remote areas, the last mile can be covered with a combination of wireless and satellite technology. The latest modulation schemes and bulk buying of space segment can reduce operating costs to a fraction of what was possible five years ago. The cost per user of sharing networks has been dramatically diminished. We could do this now, but for the lack of vision referred to earlier. This ‘single platform’ will provide broadband access. Most think of broadband as quick access to e-mail and Websites. That is as far as they can see. Few see the impact this can have on the lives of millions of people and few see the wealth it can generate. Broadband satellite carriers can be used to transport much more than just voice, fax, data and video. I think of broadband as, ‘a high speed Internet delivery platform on which diverse technologies converge and the user is permanently connected.’ Satellite Broadband carriers will, in effect, be a backbone in the sky. A satellite ground station connected to a wireless central hub can link all devices that access it to the rest of the world. That word convergence springs to mind. There are huge developments taking place in wireless technology. We have all heard of hotspots where travellers can access the Internet at airports and so on. Most of these are based on older technologies such as 802.11 protocols. Hotspots generally have a very small footprint and are not accessible outside restricted zones. Newer wireless technologies are imminent, such as the cable modem Docsis standard and Wi-Max for extended Wi-Fi coverage, that will support thousands of users over a footprint of 30 kilometres or so. Technological convergence makes the Wi-Max platform accessible by many different types of devices such as Laptop computers, PDAs and mobile phones. Wireless technologies also provide efficient ‘peering’ – direct connections – between Internet Service Providers to accelerate local access to goods, services and information. It seems clear, that progress in satellite communications technology and blue lasers will bring more affordable devices and bandwidth to millions of people. By investing in these ‘single platform’ networks we can educate people and leave an indelible impression on students for the rest of their lives. By investing, we can make it possible for people in rural areas to access an array of shops on the screen of an affordable device. They might even, this way, select a fatter cow for their herd, or buy a light vehicle to collect and deliver their produce. I believe in real networks for the end user where broadband makes virtual presence possible. Networks can make a difference. Long live the networks.