|Topic:||Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) Operators Revolutionise|
Broadband Solutions in MENA Region
|Author:||Ebrahim K. Ebrahim|
Corporate & Marketing Communications
Ebrahim K. Ebrahim is the Vice President of Corporate & Marketing Communications at Thuraya Telecom Company, a leading mobile satellite operator. He is responsible for overseeing the strategic planning, development and execution of all marketing and corporate communications programs. He also leads the creation and execution of Thuraya’s brand strategy and several product launch initiatives within the Company.
Mr. Ebrahim has been part of the Thuraya team for over 12 years having begun his career in 1998 as Manager Media & Public Relations. He previously worked in the telecom sector for Bahrain’s largest telecom company, BATELCO as well as the Arab Insurance Group.
Ebrahim K. Ebrahim holds a Master degree in Public Relations from the University of Stirling, UK.
Satellite Communications is gearing up to deliver fast broadband in the MENA region, where mobile communications has outperformed Fixed Line. Despite the alternatives (Fiber and LTE), SATCOM is still a popular choice, especially in remote areas where mobility must be provided. To achieve easy mobility, the SATCOM broadband devices must be neat, lightweight and small, with plug-and-play compatibility. Such terminals are essential for solutions such as border control, media crews on the go, mining operations in remote areas, energy explorations and so on.
The demand for mobility of high speed data services
High-speed data services are an integral part of our daily lives. Without fast Internet, business would simply be impossible. Today, no one would accept being tied down to a fixed position to access data services. Most broadband customers would prefer to be on the move and have the internet right at their fingertips. They want to be able to find broadband services via their phone or use their laptops without carrying around a bulky modem. The demand for mobility and portability is turning Broadband Satellite into a multi-billion business in the coming years.
Mobile broadband in Middle East and Africa has grown rapidly in recent years, propelled by expanding networks and falling prices. Research reports have estimated that the Middle East has potential for 17 million mobile broadband subscribers, and Africa around 24 million users representing a market worth of US$6 billion. In certain countries in Africa like Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, it has been forecasted by analysts that by 2016 earned revenues for the broadband market will reach US$1.932 billion.
Alternative solutions – Fiber and LTE
As there is limited installed telecommunications infrastructure, mobile broadband connections have outperformed fixed broadband connections in many countries on the continent. To resolve fixed networks capacity issues and to catapult the region into the global wired arena, Fiber Optic Network deployment is scheduled to increase within the next few years.
The demand for Mobile Broadband is also reflected in accelerated adoption of the Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G. The penetration rate for this wireless broadband technology in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE is expected to reach 11.8 percent of all subscriptions, comparing with 7.7 percent in Western Europe. Despite these forecasts, many countries in the region still have low levels of broadband penetration. To access broadband services, mobile broadband is acting as a fixed line substitute and there is strong demand for satellite broadband service, similar to the African model.
Satellite communication growth
Currently, in several parts of Africa customers rely on satellite internet for broadband communication. Satellite backhaul services, mainly for cellular extension, has continued to increase last year and according to recent reports will see at least a 175 percent growth in installed backhaul sites around the globe in the coming ten years. The revenue for broadband data in the satellite industry is expected to exceed US$9 billion by the year 2020 according to sector analysts.
As satellite broadband service in Africa and the Middle East is highly in demand, it is fitting that Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) operators dedicate much of their R&D and product portfolios to the development of solutions to meet this need. Since communication today is driven by data services, access to the internet on satellite handsets is of the utmost importance. Even more so for customers based in remote areas who have limited terrestrial network coverage and demand rapidly deployable and reliable data services.
SATCOM (Satellite Communication) device requirements
To any satellite broadband customer, the most definitive criteria for selecting a satellite handheld device is throughput, and the faster the data service on the handset, the better. Currently the fastest available data speed on a mobile satellite handheld terminal is 60 Kbps. With this speed, consumers can conveniently access web-based email, applications such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, browse the net, upload news and pictures as well as blogs.
Despite the surge in demand for broadband services via handheld devices, the throughput speed might not be sufficient to meet the needs of high-speed data users. More effective alternative is the MSS satellite broadband solutions. But consumers require solutions that are ergonomic, fast and portable to help them feel a sense of mobility, since being on the move for many sectors is an essential need. The smallest available size in the market at present for a mobile satellite solution is A5 which weighs a mere 1300 grams, and is actually smaller than a laptop.
MSS broadband devices of this size have generated great interest from several sectors in the Middle East and Africa. Large energy corporations in North Africa depend on mobility terminals to access high-speed data services. These corporations prefer compact terminals and robust networks but most importantly they require mobility, especially during the exploration phases. Furthermore, the advantage of having a mobile satellite broadband solution in the field is that it provides solid support where VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) solutions fall short.
SATCOM solutions are deployed as a means to ensure that crew in remote areas have access to a virtual office environment. Energy organisations in Middle East and Africa that rely heavily on MSS broadband services are able to support industry-specific applications and engage in reliable daily communications. They can use video-conferencing and Skype as well as other web-based software, especially if they are based on remote rigs. Most importantly, energy crew can enjoy all these communication luxuries without being tied down to one location.
In Saudi Arabia, the mobility of the MSS broadband solutions has proven to be advantageous for tracking purposes as well as for border control. Government agencies can send and receive data whilst on the move essentially due to the convenient smaller size of the available devices. MSS broadband terminals also enable staff in the field to be constantly connected to their head offices with ease.
Some MSS broadband solutions are also used in the Middle East and Africa as a backup for ATMs in the banking sector when fixed satellite solutions are not operable. Again, Mobility is an advantage because the solution can be deployed in various locations. Additionally, if the MSS broadband solution is based on a plug-and-play system it means no additional software is required for operation. This feature has also attracted interest in the mining sector in Africa where most of the activity is in remote areas outside of the coverage of terrestrial networks.
In Sudan, the broadcast media have achieved great results through the streaming of live events via satellite broadband solutions. These included the elections and referendum which were significant historically in the country. The mobile aspect of these solutions ensures that broadcast professionals in the field can cover events in real time from any hotspot. Robust space-based networks that can dynamically allocate resources in hotspots based on customer demand makes mobile satellite solutions even more compelling for this segment. The broadcast media specifically require compact size products, terminals that support full media solutions and asymmetric streaming capabilities. If a satellite broadband solution is a bulky camera, the crew performance would be adversely affected by their inability to move quickly and instantly set up operations across the large country.
Similarly, the United Nations deployed MSS broadband solutions for supporting major political events in Sudan and for assisting in refugee control operations in Darfur. This world famous humanitarian organisation needs free movement across the country and reliable access to high-speed data, which SATCOM solutions can provide with ease.
In conclusion, it is evident that MSS can satisfy a variety of business requirements in this rapidly changing region, where lightweight small size devices provide mobile solutions that support broadband communication.