|Topic:||RASCOM and the Connect the World Initiative in Africa|
|Author:||Dr. Jones A. Killimbe|
Dr Jones A. Killimbe is the Director General/CEO of RASCOM, the Regional African Satellite Communications Organisation, an organization for launching the first Pan-African satellite. It has 45 member countries. Dr Killimbe is also the Chairman of the Board of RascomStar-QAF, the commercial operating company for the RASCOM satellite. Prior to joining RASCOM, he held several senior management positions in Tanzania Telecommunications Company (TTCL), and served as a member of INTELSAT’s Board of Directors representing Africa during the privatization period of INTELSAT. Dr Jones A. Killimbe, a Tanzanian, holds both a MSc and a PhD in Telecommunications.
Connectivity – access to telecommunications – is the hallmark of the information society and the basis of the global economy. Africa’s vast, often sparsely populated landscape makes it all but impossible to connect the continent by traditional means. Satellites, however, have the reach to do so economically. RASCOM, an association of African states, is launching a satellite – and will be producing terminal equipment in a scale calculated to generate the economies needed – to provide affordable communications anywhere upon the continent.
The Regional African Satellite Communications Organisation, RASCOM, is a vital part of the effort to build a digital world, a place in the Global Information Society for Africa, and bridge the digital divide. According to Kofi Annan, the ‘digital divide is several divides in one’. RASCOM, headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, was created in May 1992. It is as an expression of the goal of all African states to work together to create and operate a common telecommunications infrastructure for Africa using a dedicated satellite system with continental coverage. RASCOM’s membership includes (45) African countries. RASCOM resulted from a comprehensive feasibility study by 600 African experts, with support from experts at international organizations. The study concluded that a satellite with continental coverage was the ideal technology for African needs. This was prior to the advent of the Internet, which has exacerbated the need for a comprehensive telecommunications infrastructure to support Africa’s social and economic growth. RASCOM’s mission RASCOM’s vision is “…to provide an efficient and economical means of telecommunications, including the requirements for transmission of sound and television broadcasting and community reception by satellite, to all areas in African countries using a regional African satellite system, complemented as necessary by any other appropriate technology, which shall be properly integrated into the existing and/or planned national network with a view to fostering the development of African countries”. RASCOM’S objectives To accomplish this vision, RASCOM intends to: • provide a wide range of telecommunications services throughout Africa with low costs resulting from economies of scale; • establish direct links between all African countries to save the hundreds of millions of dollars that Africa pays each year for internal African traffic that traditionally leaves Africa to transit through foreign operators; • improve interurban communications within each African country; and, • provide facilities for radio and television broadcasting in each African country as well as exchange of TV and radio programmes between African countries. RASCOM and Connect the World RASCOM aims to create sustainable, viable connectivity within Africa, together – as necessary – with other existing and planned systems. Africa’s population is estimated at over 800 million people. About 70 per cent of its people live in rural areas where they produce over 30-40 per cent of the total GDP with almost no access to telecommunications to boost their efforts. RASCOM, through its intra-African and rural communication services, using rural terminals and satellite bandwidth optimisation, will provide affordable telecommunications and Internet services throughout the African continent. Leased bandwidth for trunking, broadcasting, Internet services and GSM backhaul, among others, provided by RASCOM’s dedicated satellite system will facilitate the digital inclusion of much of Africa’s population. RASCOM is a partner of the ITU’s Connect the World initiative. It is already involved in several projects for the digital inclusion of Africa’s people, promoting the continent’s active participation in the Global Information Society. RASCOM is participating in the E-Post Africa Project, a joint initiative of the Pan-African Postal Union (PAPU), the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and RASCOM, to provide e-services in all of Africa’s more than 300,000 post offices using the RASCOM Multimedia terminals. Given the economies of scale generated by RASCOM, these terminals and end-user services shall be very affordable. RASCOM also takes part in the Advisory Committee of the African Union Commission, implementing the Indian Pan-African e-Network project that will provide tele-education and tele-medicine in all 53 African countries; the project will use the RASCOM satellite system once it is launched in 2007. RASCOM is also working with NEPAD’s e-school project for schools in Africa. The RASCOM satellite’s continental coverage will provide an ideal platform to connect schools with multimedia terminals anywhere in Africa. Rural integration The RASCOM-designed terminals will play a vital role in the efforts to establish digital inclusion, especially within rural Africa. These terminals will enable connectivity to telephone, fax, data, Internet and digital TV reception. Thin route trunking RASCOM’s satellite system will offer connectivity for on-demand services or thin route trunking enabling direct interconnection, on a call-by-call basis, for medium rate transmission between any two countries on the African continent. These connections are particularly well suited for affordable, low tariff, inter-urban or international telephony links. Implementing the RASCOM satellite system The construction of the RASCOM dedicated African satellite system is complete. RASCOM and its founding partners are now mobilising funds for the launch, insurance services and ground infrastructure component of the project. RASCOM expects the launch to take place in 2007. Efforts by the international community to address the issues of digital divide must take into account the infrastructure gaps in developing countries in general and Africa in particular. RASCOM, through its dedicated satellite system completely covering the vast, sparsely populated African continent, is a practical way to address the basic issues of the gap in Africa’s telecommunications infrastructure. This is the perfect opportunity for the international community to accompany and help RASCOM fulfil its objective of providing the entire continent with digital access by way of its dedicated satellite system. RASCOM is proud to be associated as a partner of the International Telecommunications Union’s Connect the World initiative and its drive to address the burning issues of the digital divide, especially now that information and communication technology is taking centre-stage in humanity’s development.