By Brian Jakins For many Africans, high-throughput satellites are coming into service just in time. Falling oil prices have hurt the western part of the continent. Many telecommunications companies have been forced to consolidate, or have cut back on capital spending for new network services. Less foreign capital is flowing in because of concerns about economic conditions across the continent, and many countries are seeing their currencies decline against the U.S. dollar. Now, satellites such as Intelsat’s new high-throughput Epic platform promise to deliver more data at lower cost per megabit than previous spacecraft, opening up a range of services and capabilities that were not possible before. Many telecom companies are looking carefully at the cost of operating their networks. With high-throughput satellites (HTS) offering three to five times the efficiency of earlier platforms, these companies are seeing the cost of ownership go down, and are thus able to expand their networks into new areas where demand for bandwidth has not been met. Africa is made up more than 50 countries where people speak literally hundreds of languages and dialects. The challenges of running terrestrial fiber between urban areas are enormous, and the logistics of connecting rural communities even more daunting:
- Operators of 3G and 4G networks in Africa are seeing increased bandwidth requirements per user. In fact, some may move immediately to LTE implementations. Wireless network operators rely on satellite for key parts of their infrastructure, but they are approaching the limits of current satellite ground equipment and satellites for backhaul due to increased traffic load. Africa had 300 million mobile Internet users at the end of 2015, and that number is expected to grow to 550 million by 2020 – an increase of 13% annually.
- Wireless operators face challenging economics to provide thin routes to rural communities with few users or without electricity. Solar-powered options are often unfeasible because of the high energy consumption of remote equipment. The African Development Bank estimates that 70 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa does not have access to electricity.
- The unattractive economics of providing service to rural communities and extended return on investment slows down compliance with universal service obligations.