Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East 2013 The battle for access in the developing world

The battle for access in the developing world

by david.nunes
Omar TrujilloIssue:AME 2013
Article no.:10
Topic:The battle for access in the developing world
Author:Omar Trujillo
Title:VP Africa & Latin America
Organisation:O3b Networks
PDF size:219KB

About author

Omar Trujillo is the Regional Vice President, Africa, for O3b Networks; he leads commercial development in the region. Prior to joining O3b Networks, Mr. Trujillo worked from as the Sales Director for Paradigm Communications, a VSAT satellite integrator and service provider in the UK that offers solutions for GSM backhaul in EMEA. Prior to this, Mr. Trujillo also worked as International Sales Manager for NSI Communications covering the CALA region, and as a field engineer specializing in control automation for several years in his native Colombia.
Omar Trujillo earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the Escuela Colombiana de Ingenieria and an MPB from McGill University with a focus on strategy and international business.

Article abstract

The United Nations states “all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their Universal Access / Service Definitions” by 2015. To meet this goal
PC manufacturers, access device manufacturers and satellite companies must work together to eliminate the bottlenecks that keep over 3 billion people from connecting to the Internet.
Medium Earth orbit satellites provide cost-effective coverage in rural and other hard to reach regions, and offer emerging markets the broadband connectivity they need.

Full Article

Nowhere is the battle for access this more relevant than in the developing world. The challenge of bringing affordable, state-of-the-art broadband services to the ‘other three billion’ people who have been denied them for reasons of geography, political instability and economics is immense.

The Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, Dr Hamadoun Touré, recently told the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in Mexico City that he wanted to “dream big” and set a new goal to ensure that everybody in the world can access broadband internet speeds of 20Mbps for $20 a month by 2020.

This issue has been high on the political agenda for some time. At present, the United Nations global digital development targets for internet access are focused on ensuring that “all countries should have a national broadband plan or strategy or include broadband in their Universal Access / Service Definitions” by 2015. The Broadband Commission, set up by the ITU and UNESCO, aims to bolster efforts to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Commission was established in May 2010, five years after the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and ten years after the launch of the MDGs. It promotes the idea that expanding broadband access in every country has a key role to play in accelerating development.

This challenge is one that everyone – governments, NGOs and the private sector – simply cannot fail. The internet connectivity needs in these markets go well beyond the bandwidth any single company or institution can provide. This is why organizations such as PC manufacturers, access device manufacturers and satellite companies must work together to ensure that all potential bottlenecks that keep over three billion people from being connected to the internet are eliminated.

Satellite is a well-used and understood technology in most emerging markets. However, there are still many parts of the world, including parts of the Gulf and Africa which do not have infrastructure conducive to 21st century communications in place. In many of these parts of the world, the only way to provide this effectively, efficiently and in a timely manner is to do so using the latest satellite technology, as opposed to Geostationary satellites or fiber.

It will take a new satellite constellation operating in ‘medium Earth orbit‘ to provide full country coverage anywhere on earth, within 45 degrees of latitude north and south of the equator. This is good news for markets that continue to suffer from fragmented fiber infrastructure and high connectivity costs. Beyond major cities, broadband costs remain high, the fiber infrastructure remains poor and there is a need for 3G cellular backhaul across large unserved areas.

There is a very strong and demonstrable linkage between the telecommunications infrastructure and social and economic development within emerging countries and markets and that is something that we have to tap into. A 2009 World Bank study estimated that a ten per cent increase in broadband penetration in low and middle-income countries yielded an additional 1.38 per cent in GDP growth. It is vital that we help link entrepreneurs and small business across emerging markets to the global internet backbone, enabling them to thrive locally and tap into the global economy. In this way we can enable communities to access substantial social and economic benefits for the communities in which they operate.

The medium Earth orbit satellite constellation piece of the puzzle is to provide low cost and plentiful middle-mile connectivity. Rather than targeting the end user, it will provide high bandwidth and low latency backhaul compatible with all forms of last-mile solutions (2G, 3G, WiMAX, LTE etc.), which establishes a new position in the satellite space. Because it means lower latency, demand is already considerable as far afield as Africa, the Pacific, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

Latin America is a market with huge potential, particularly with the explosion of mobile networks and mobile infrastructure in recent years. In Africa, the situation is slightly different. Several fibre projects have arrived, providing huge connectivity to the coasts, while a number of satellites have also launched in a short period of time. There is no doubt though that the demand for connectivity in Africa will continue to grow and while there will likely be a hiatus as operators take up the substantial supply just provided, as happened in Latin America several years ago, we now see Latin America demanding huge capacity and this too will happen in Africa.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a good example of an African country which is crying out for improved connectivity. Currently, there is no submarine fiber connectivity to the international internet backbone. Even if this did exist, its reliability would be mostly untested and therefore would require a satellite backup to provide low latency, reliable connectivity should the cable fail. This backup allows service providers to offer a better quality connectivity service to their customers and actually reduce OPEX significantly.

In all of these markets, further from the large urban centres used to mean higher costs for transmission. The average mobile operator’s network typically includes base transceiver station (BTS) sites in urban, sub-urban, rural and remote areas. While traffic in urban and sub-urban areas justify the transmission costs of fiber optic and microwave transport networks, the same cannot be said for rural and remote areas. Getting capacity into these difficult terrains is the next major challenge faced by most mobile operators as they try to extend their networks not only to meet their licensing obligations but to move further out of the competitive urban areas in search of new subscribers and profitability.

For mobile operators, traffic is going up but revenue per bit is going down. An increase in backhaul capacity is required to keep up with growing demand and operators need to find a way to reduce their biggest operational expenditure, which is transmission. In the near future, users in remote areas will get connected to the internet using 3G data cards as the access technology on the last mile. Mobile operators will be expected to build the backhaul networks that will connect these remote areas back to the internet exchange points in the cities. Laying fiber to build these transmission networks is just not practical and will exceed their budget limitations.

The Cook Islands, with a population of approximately 15,000 citizens, as well as its up to 100,000 annual visitors, is a good example of a geography which is set to benefit from improved broadband access. Far greater access to information will provide equal opportunities for all citizens and incentivise islanders to adapt to a more web-centric landscape, spanning from educational and medical to commercial services. The new broadband network scenario is expected to also have a highly beneficial impact on the local economy, connecting its citizens and entrepreneurs on a par with their peers and business partners elsewhere in the world.

Another territory that will see a significant improvement in broadband accessibility is American Samoa. The new capacity will improve network speeds, network reliability, and will provide redundancy, should the submarine fiber optic system fail. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, the government is aiming to bridge the digital divide existing between rural and urban Malaysia by offering cost effective satellite services to rural areas. Even in Afghanistan, one of the most challenging markets in the world, the potential benefits are immense. Afghanistan is a land-locked country with no submarine cable. There are a few overland fiber’s coming into the country from the neighboring countries. These fiber cables are a hybrid of microwave and fiber and are highly unstable. With additional, reliable, capacity major MNOs, other ISPs and other corporate customers will be able to provide more effective services.

Medium Earth orbit satellite technology offers a solution that tackles a number of the underlying issues.

Firstly: costs. Fibre optic cable is often ruled out as a viable option due to the economics – operators are often unable to invest tens of millions of dollars to reach rural areas and dispersed communities. Satellite offers more cost effective coverage because it is point to multi point but it is not necessarily less expensive than connecting two points and traditional satellite cannot handle the capacity or latency that a fiber link provides so you really cannot compare costs. This technology can offer broad coverage, high capacity and low latency at a lower cost than fiber for broad rural coverage areas.

Secondly: satellite works alongside and in support of mobile providers. Satellite allows mobile operators to aggregate their connection to a central point from which they can pool capacity. Fiber, on the other hand, is cost prohibitive for broad rural coverage.

The prospect of connecting the developing world is enormously exciting. Providing broadband connectivity to the emerging markets – effectively ‘connecting the unconnected’ – is about providing the broadest range of services where it has not been economic to do so in the past. This opportunity for digital parity will move a step closer once Medium Earth orbit satellite services become available.

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