Connecting the Unconnected in Africa
By Jean-Philippe Gillet,
Vice President, Europe, Middle East and Africa
Home to three of the 10 world’s fastest growing economies, Africa is experiencing rapid growth as more people come online, creating social and economic opportunities that were previously inaccessible. Yet it’s the only region where mobile broadband penetration rates remain below 20%. Much of sub-Saharan Africa has underdeveloped infrastructure – leaving many populations unconnected.
Regional and global network service providers have an unprecedented opportunity to gain a first-to-market advantage in these regions and drive new sources of revenue. But the challenges are also significant; the business environment they’re operating in is increasingly complex and costly. Some of these challenges include:
- New competition arising with the widespread adoption of mobile money – In Africa, mobile money is transforming the economy…and the competition. Today, network operators are not only competing with each other for subscribers, they’re also competing with banks that have launched mobile networks of their own to capture and retain customers. More than ever, network providers need to differentiate their services and provide value to customers.
- Traditional lines of revenue are changing – Revenues from traditional voice communications are on the decline, while bandwidth-intensive video and applications like Snapchat and WhatsApp are in high demand. People are using more and more data, but don’t want to pay more. It’s not only straining mobile networks, it costs operators more to achieve the same levels of revenue.
- Difficulty of network expansion – The geographic challenges in Africa are compounded by unique factors, such as lack of access to power. At least half of the populations in 38 of the 49 sub-Saharan countries are without electricity. Why does this matter? Building a tower requires power, and if you want to deliver reliable service, you also need a diesel generator. The challenge of getting to the location where you put the tower is further increased by the logistics of bringing in the diesel. In many regions, this is a major problem – and a costly one. For the providers who do this, upward of 40% of operating costs are going to diesel.
- Regulatory requirements – Mobile network operators must meet minimum performance and coverage requirements, including rural expansion as part of their licensing requirements. Yet meeting these obligations can be a challenge (for noted reasons), with hefty fines levied if the licensing obligations are not met. For many, this has become an unfortunate cost of doing business.
A new solution for the changed landscape
Just a year ago, overcoming the challenges to network expansion in remote areas would have been difficult – and cost-prohibitive. However, with the launch this year of new high-throughput satellites (HTS) such as Intelsat EpicNG, the opportunity to connect the unconnected has been transformed.
HTS solutions deliver incredibly fast speeds at a significantly lower cost per bit to meet growing demand for video and other applications. This alone is a game-changer. But when HTS technology is seamlessly integrated with next-generation terrestrial infrastructure as part of a managed service (that can provide on-demand access to mega-pools of capacity), network service providers now have a practical and cost-effective solution that enables them to provision, manage, contend and scale services whenever, and wherever, they need them.
Perhaps one of the greatest advantages is that the high power and G/T of Intelsat EpicNG satellites enable the use of much smaller, more portable kits – many of which are solar powered – so they can be easily transported to the most remote areas. This not only mitigates the innumerable logistical challenges, it also eliminates the dependency on diesel and generators.
Today, emerging markets are where the majority of growth opportunities exist. And while each market brings its own set of challenges, the African example shows we have a significant opportunity with satellite technology to overcome the obstacles that once delayed or stagnated network expansion projects. Now it’s not only possible to meet demand in these areas of the world, but profitable and desirable.
To learn more about how Intelsat EpicNG and HTS technology can help with your network expansion plans, please contact us.