Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East 2013 Satellites – closing the digital divide in Africa and the Middle East

Satellites – closing the digital divide in Africa and the Middle East

by david.nunes
Soheil MehrabanzadIssue:AME 2013
Article no.:12
Topic:Satellites – closing the digital divide in Africa and the Middle East
Author:Soheil Mehrabanzad
Title:Assistant VP & General Manager,
Middle East/Africa Region, International Division
Organisation:Hughes Network Systems
PDF size:197KB

About author

Mr. Soheil Mehrabanzad is Assistant Vice President and General Manager for the Middle East and Africa regions at Hughes Network Systems’ International Division. Mr Mehrabanzad has almost three decades of experience in the telecommunications sector. Mr Mehrabanzad started his career as a simulation software engineer and later was a software consultant with several U.S. power utilities.

Prior to rejoining Hughes Network Systems, Mr. Mehrabanzad was Vice President of Business Development for an UAE-based multinational corporation.

Soheil Mehrabanzad has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA and a Master of Business Administration from Loyola Marymount College, Virginia, USA.

Article abstract

Africa is the world’s second fastest economic growth region; connectivity is crucial to its sustained growth. Broadband access via satellite empowers people and brings profits to disadvantaged communities in remote regions. The continued growth of broadband access depends upon pragmatic telecommunication regulatory policies. Broadband via satellite, with its higher speed broadband, will improve access to health care, education, and social services, fulfilling social goals and helps telecommunications operators profitably provide better services at affordable prices, regardless of their user’s location.

Full Article

In an increasingly connected world, never before has the landscape for information and entertainment been so varied and easy to access. Technology advances and the explosive growth of mobile communication have caused mobile phones to overtake personal computers (PCs) as the most common web access devices worldwide. On the network delivery side, telephone companies (telcos) faced with declining revenues in traditional phone line services, are focused on generating revenues from the explosive growth in mobile, data and multimedia applications.

The Africa Middle East (AME) region is no exception, and with Africa’s status as the second fastest growth region in the global economy in the last decade, connectivity remains a crucial element to sustainable growth. Therefore, the fundamental question for users in the region is not one of connectivity anymore – the question is are they ‘un’-served or ‘under’-served!?

Unserved or underserved

The definition of ‘unserved’ is pretty straightforward―users in areas where broadband is not available. Even with the wide-ranging deployment of broadband services in the Africa Middle East region, there are still many geographical areas in the region that do not have any broadband options, so they are classified as ‘un’ served. In comparison, the ‘under’ served users are those in connected areas, but they are demanding a better user experience. The better experience typically means higher speeds to match their usage of linear and non-linear multimedia applications such as YouTube and Skype or file deliveries via DropBox. A network technology which can underperform is DSL, as DSL throughput speeds drop off markedly the further a user is from the DSL network.

The importance of good quality broadband for all is underscored by a recent study published by ITU where it shows a ten percent increase in broadband penetration raises annual growth in per-capita GDP by 0.9 to 1.5 percentage points. This is huge and the implication is clear―broadband is a necessity on par with safe roads, clean water and electricity.

Opportunities in Unserved Markets

According to the world Internet Usage Statistics, the African continent has approximately 15.3 percent of the world’s population and an Internet penetration rate of 15.6 which lags significantly behind the rest of the world’s average of 37.7 percent. Only 7 percent of the world’s Internet users are in Africa. The un-served AME communities are getting a huge boost in provisioning broadband through adoption of national broadband programs financed by government funds (derived from licenses, etc.), as well as mobile licensed operators commitment to provide universal services (USO). The Universal Service includes delivery of broadband services to rural and remote areas across the African continent. Satellite technology continues to provide the most cost-effective broadband solution for rural and remote areas.
Throughout the world satellite broadband connectivity has played a critical part in delivering eGovernment initiatives to unserved areas. In the AME region, examples include connecting schools in Ethiopia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Ethiopia, satellite solutions are connecting a large number of students simultaneously with video and audio sessions that simulate a classroom environment. The same satellite solution used for the Ethiopian schools also supports rural communities to provide citizens access to national news and local government initiatives in farming and health programs and help nurture local commerce. In the affluent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the government has already embarked on an initiative to provide education for their citizens regardless of their geographic locations. Thousands of schools are connected today through satellite technology, and students are provided access to teaching resources and Internet access previously only available in large cities such as Riyadh.

In the financial sector, M(obile)payment and Mbanking are the fastest rising applications on the continent. In East Africa, it is very common today to find farmers using mobile devices to get real-time market prices for their crops and livestock. To extend the reach and connectivity to these remotes users, mobile operators have turned to the satellite industry for solutions. In the past, mobile operators mostly deployed services in urban areas because they were guaranteed a large customer base and higher average revenue per user (ARPU). Mobile operators delayed rollout of services to rural areas because of higher costs. However, with the deployment of satellite networks and terminals for cellular backhaul applications, rural communities are now enjoying mobile services in a cost-effective manner. In addition, using satellite technology GSM networks have been deployed on boats using picocells so people can stay within the network coverage area even when travelling on a ship.

Satellite solutions have enabled both the extension of mobile backhaul reach, as well as a direct point of presence in the villages, farms, schools, and businesses. Obviously, in most instances, remote locations lack a power infrastructure. Therefore, it is very common to see solar-powered satellite terminals connected to mobile base stations, payphone kiosks, and automated teller machines for digital inclusion of these unserved areas.

While underserved…

In contrast, ‘under’ served markets have a different set of challenges. Several reasons have contributed to a significant shift in this market, and amongst them is the demand for higher speeds to support network transport of rich multimedia applications. These applications are also carried on multiple platforms, i.e., from PCs to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

It is widely believed that in business size matters, and in the Internet and broadband world speed definitely matters! The new generation of broadband services via satellite has again proven to be an affordable solution.

From a myriad of video and audio streaming services offered through social media in the consumer world to a quality enterprise business video or delivery of a large set of business data—speed matters. High speed is typically synonymous with good delivery of multimedia services while saving time which impacts business costs. Obviously, not every nation can be South Korea which leads the world in high-speed broadband connectivity and speeds of two
to eight Mbit/s are common. However, to gain some regional perspective it is important to examine some numbers:

• Research shows the Arab world is a major contributor to the mobile sector with 105 mobile phones for every 100 people, making it among the fastest growing in the world;
• Saudi Arabia is the largest consumer of YouTube videos per capita in the world, and is producing home-grown digital video studios;
• Consumers are regularly watching two screens simultaneously with 40 percent of Americans using their Smartphone or tablet while watching TV on a daily basis;
• According to Edge, more than 751 million people access Facebook via mobile devices every month, 60 percent of whom log into their Facebook pages daily;
• Facebook users grew by about 50 percent between 2012 and 2013 with about 25 million people in Africa on Facebook in 2012.

To cope with the convergence of data, video, and voice, AME telcos and mobile and satellite service operators are taking note of the ‘under’ served community and offering powerful solutions to cope with consumer and enterprises need for speed!

High-speed broadband services are available today across a variety of channels, but the critical success factors in a user’s uptake and avoidance of churn are scalability, affordability, and consistency of service—anywhere and anytime. Satellite operators such as Yahsat, based in United Arab Emirates, and Avanti, based in the United Kingdom, have taken note. Both companies, through deployment of next generation satellite systems, have demonstrated an ability to provide both un-and-under served users with broadband access anywhere in their vast service footprints. As an example, Yahsat’s YahClick service, which operates in the Ka-band frequency, will eventually be deployed in 28 countries across the region and is already delivering 5-10 Mbps high-speed plans to home and business Internet users from Nigeria to Afghanistan.

New Application Trends

Let us not forget that as we embark on an ‘Internet of things’ world, new and interesting revenue opportunities are starting to appear on the horizon through machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions. This is a world where connected and automated sensors bring crucial water and power grid data to, for example power utilities, while consumers can control their homes’ air-conditioning through an application on their smartphones.

The connected world will continue to mandate ubiquitous, affordable, and high-speed, high-quality services as key priorities of our time―if not for this century. In fact, in 2011, the United Nations declared that broadband access is a basic human right. The socio-economic impact of broadband access (e.g. via satellite) in empowering people and bringing profits to otherwise disadvantaged communities has been proven and is growing.

The critical success factors, which are already embraced by many of the Africa Middle East governments, have been through a pragmatic approach regarding telecommunication policies, spectrum allocations, and capacity building. Delivery of multimedia rich applications will gain further momentum through additional planned deployment of high throughput Ka-band satellites for both un-and-underserved communities. Broadband via satellite will mean higher speeds and affordability for everyone and will enable governments to improve their citizens’ access to health care, education, and services, fulfilling their social goals with telecommunications operators meeting the need for speed of their users at affordable prices, regardless of their location.


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