Sky-high thinking for African internet
Published: 7th Aug 2012 00:00:47
How do you solve a problem like broadband in Africa?
Some believe it's by looking up to the heavens.
Not in hope of divine intervention, but as an opportunity: satellite-powered broadband could be the answer to Africa's connectivity conundrum.
The internet is, as one US senator once put it, a series of tubes.
His comments went down in internet folklore and were roundly mocked - but his remarks were loosely true. For the internet to get around the world it needs cables - lots of them.
They cost millions, span entire oceans and meander across deserts. Many are laid through some of the world's most volatile areas, such as Syria.
So when it comes to connecting Africa to the high-speed information super-highway, the enormity of the task cannot be over-exaggerated.
In the past few years, the continent has benefited from major investment into its internet economy.
Since 2009, three high-speed internet cables have been laid across the ocean, reaching out from Europe and Asia, and bringing huge speed increases - not to mention lower costs - to east Africa.
Kenya has arguably made the most of this connectivity. In just 12 months after the installation of the high-speed cables, the number of Kenyans on broadband rocketed from 1.8 million to more than 3 million.
We have always believed there is a huge opportunity for satellite communications services in emerging markets”
With a lot of businesses now able to set themselves up and serve customers online, savings were able to be made across the board.
But cables are expensive - and they break. Earlier this year, cables linking east Africa to the Middle East and Europe were severed in an accident.
Internet users' connectivity suffered for more than three weeks - with data transfer rates in nine countries taking a serious, crippling hit. Such long-term technical problems undermine Africa's credibility as a potential future global technology hub.
Coupled with the logistical barrier associated with enabling internet connections in the most rural parts of Africa, and it's arguable that a rethink is desperately needed.
Avanti's rethink launched into space on 2 August.
The company says its satellite, Hylas 2, will bring high speed connectivity to southern and eastern Africa, the Middle East and the central Asia.
The growth potential for businesses on the ground, Avanti chief executive David Williams says, is simply enormous.
"We have always believed there is a huge opportunity for satellite communications services in emerging markets because growth for data and voice services is high whilst supply of telecoms network capacity is low," Mr Williams says.
"This is very attractive to Government and enterprise customers, particularly those working in oil, mining, agriculture, banking and security sectors."
The satellite is the company's second to reach orbit. The first, Hylas 1, went up in 2010, and the company plans another - Hylas 3 - for 2015.
Hylas is shorthand for "Highly Adaptable Satellite", an apt name which describes one of its key attributes - the ability to direct its beams to different areas of the continent in order to satisfy demand.
All of the satellites utilise the Ka-band frequency, which operates in the 30Ghz section of the radio spectrum. Avanti says this means it is able to offer 99.9% uptime, no matter what the weather conditions may be.
It is hoped that the satellites build on the progress brought by the undersea cables and lower the cost of broadband further, be it residential users or those running a business.
As more people get connected, it's more effective financially”
Although costs have become far cheaper since cable installations, broadband is still prohibitively expensive.
For example, in Kenya, a small business broadband connection can cost around £60 a month for a relatively slow connection of 256kb per second.
With the new satellites, Avanti says it can offer 8MB connection speeds for around £20 - a dramatic rise in speed coupled with what some believe is a game-changing drop in price.
"Whatever the investments that you see happening, they will [all] make the internet cheaper," says Paul Kukubo, chief executive of the Kenyan ICT board.
"The internet is getting cheaper anyway," he tells the BBC.
"It's getting cheaper on two accounts - investments and also the economies of scale.
"As more people get connected, it's more effective financially to actually invest and therefore the internet gets cheaper."
He argued that lessons can be learned from the mobile networks who, with enhanced technology, were able to offer individuals and businesses attractively-priced internet connectivity, even in rural areas.
As a result, Africa has in fact left the developed world in its wake when it comes to adopting breakthrough mobile technologies - particularly mobile payments such as the hugely popular M-Pesa system.
In Angola, this kind of mobile connectivity is being taken to the next level. In partnership with Chinese telecoms firm ZTE, the country is rolling out 4G mobile infrastructure.
It means Angola, which just over 10 years ago was in the grip of a civil war, will offer its citizens better and faster mobile coverage than is currently on offer in London. Other countries, like Namibia, are attempting to follow suit.
Africa's surge in mobile internet use can be repeated in the fixed broadband world, Mr Kukubo says.
"We've got good examples of people who have made money by providing connectivity to the rural communities," he said.
"The large telephone networks have priced their products in a way that allows people to access it through cellphones."
He believes that by encouraging more businesses to adopt broadband services, the knock-on effect will see a significant change in costs as prices are lowered across the board.
"As consumers [learn] what to do online, you get greater usage, and that usage also drives the prices down, and also drives greater business applications, greater consumer applications.
At 02:56:31 in HeadlinesBritain has a new Minister of State for Disabled People - Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean. As he gets to grips with his new brief - the fourth person to do so in this government - Kate Ansell outlines some of the responsibilities he has inherited.
At 02:35:54 in EntertainmentGabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the 20th Century composer Sergei Prokofiev, is presenting the world premiere of his new violin concerto at the BBC Proms. He tells the BBC his forebear's fame just adds to the pressure of giving a new work its first outing.
At 02:29:39 in HeadlinesIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of a "prolonged" military campaign in Gaza.
At 02:27:50 in ScotlandA leading legal body has urged the Scottish and UK governments to undertake an urgent review of employment tribunal fees.
At 02:03:10 in HeadlinesThe time during which EU migrants can claim a range of UK benefits if they do not have realistic job prospects is to be halved to three months.
At 01:58:30 in BusinessMicrosoft has confirmed that officials from China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce - the body responsible for enforcing business laws - have visited some of its offices.
At 01:40:42 in HeadlinesScientists say a part of the brain, smaller than a pea, triggers the instinctive feeling that something bad is about to happen.
At 01:35:00 in PoliticsThe recruitment process has begun for the new post of chief executive of the Civil Service, following recent changes at the top of the organisation.
At 01:27:57 in PoliticsCommunity volunteers who help out in their local library or do charitable work should get discounts on their council tax bills, a new plan proposes.
At 01:13:45 in EnglandLabour has called for the NHS in England to stop privatising services until after the general election.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Sky-high thinking for African internet [Online] (Updated 7th Aug 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1444843/Sky-high-thinking-for-African-internet [Accessed 29th Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of the 20th Century composer Sergei Prokofiev, is presenting the world premiere of his new violin concerto at the BBC Proms. He tells the BBC his forebear's fame just adds to the pressure of giving a new work its first outing.
Two poultry factories alleged to have committed hygiene breaches have been rated as "good" and "satisfactory" by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
A leading legal body has urged the Scottish and UK governments to undertake an urgent review of employment tribunal fees.
A man has died during a swimming incident at a lake in County Armagh.
Labour has called for the NHS in England to stop privatising services until after the general election.