Satellites: Bridging the gap

Satellites help to promote connectivity in remote areas where telcos cannot reach
Africa, Arabsat, Eutelsat, Global, GSMA, Intelsat, ITU, K band, Middle East, Mobile, Satellite dependency, Satellites, Spectrum, Telecommunications, Telecoms, Thuraya


The telecommunications and satellite sector have a long relationship, as satellites have helped telcos to offer connectivity where terrestrial infrastructure could not be built. This is still the case for Africa, where service providers are offering their services mainly through satellites, as there is a lack of mobile and fixed infrastructure.

“Given the terrain in Africa, satellite technology is used widely throughout the continent and in many areas, the only source for connectivity,” says Jean-Philippe Gillet, vice president EMEA sales at Intelsat, to CommsMEA.

Zahid Zaheer, senior director GMPCS affairs at Thuraya Telecommunications, agrees and adds: “There is strong demand for satellite services all across Africa because of the unavailability of terrestrial communication infrastructure, both fixed and mobile. All countries in Africa are developing countries and satellite technology plays a critical role in meeting the communication needs and demands, and the essential connectivity requirements for landlocked countries.”

Thuraya highlights that the World Bank estimates a GDP growth of approximately 1.8% for every 10% increase in broadband network penetration in the country. In addition, information communication technology helps increase social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Therefore, Zaheer believes that this dependency that Africa has on satellites is positive for the countries.

“Satellite technology provides an alternative to terrestrial communication infrastructure. In case of any disruption and unavailability to terrestrial communication infrastructure, satellite technology helps bridge the gap,” he adds.

“While there may be a perception that satellite is expensive, internet penetration in Africa is less than 30% and satellite provides the most efficient and reliable means to bridge that digital divide,” says Gillet. “Unlike other technologies, the strength of satellite is its ability to effectively and cost-efficiently cover large areas, providing the means to deliver reliable broadband connectivity to everyone in Africa or the Middle East, regardless of location. Even wireless networks are limited in reach, and satellite also expands their reach. Ubiquitous access to broadband is satellite’s forte.”

Khalid Balkheyour, president and CEO at Arabsat, believes that the fast development of new satellite technologies have allowed to reduce the total cost of ownership to levels comparable to telecom operators in some areas and services, making connectivity more affordable. “Satellites allow for quick setup, overcoming of geography barriers and a high availability to sustain businesses and networks associated with them.”

Eric Loos, senior product manager capacity and IP at BICS, says that satellite has a huge advantage, as capacity can be provided over a very large area.

He believes that operators are moving away from satellite infrastructure at a high rate, as fibre continues to be rolled out terrestrially at a very high pace and microwave plays an important role in connecting areas where fibre has low penetration levels. “The latency introduced by satellite makes it impossible for 4G and LTE deployments. Current customers for satellite capacity can be found in landlocked countries or those countries with only one submarine cable,” Loos adds.

Sharing spectrum

The telecommunications industry has benefit from the satellite connectivity and now telcos are asking to share a portion of the C-Band (3.4-4.2GHz), which was identified for International Mobile Telecommunications* (IMT) at WRC-15. It is one of the few bands where a harmonised portion could be made available for potential future mobile broadband use worldwide and which is large enough to support very high levels of data traffic and the fastest data rates, as the GSMA states.

However, the satellite industry does not agree with the GSMA view. At the ATU conference held in Nairobi at the end of July, African countries demonstrated their will to continue to use the satellite services provided by the C-band, as they unanimously decided that the band between 3.6 and 4.2 GHz will be allocated to satellite over the region.

“No one disputes that mobile traffic is increasing and requires resources. The IMT sector, through the GSMA's intensive lobbying, is targeting part of the C-band that has been widely used by the satellite community over many decades and will still be used in the future for essential services. From our perspective, this request will jeopardise vital services provided by the satellite industry and is a major problem for global telecommunications,” says Jean-François Bureau, director of institutional and international affairs at Eutelsat.

“The C-band is used by satellite operators to provide services for air navigation and safety, civil defence, security and military networks, national and international broadcasting, backhaul, back up of terrestrial telecommunications networks, financial and banking transactions, oil, gas, and mining operations, and UN operations. More than 180 geostationary telecommunications satellites today provide services via more than 2000 C-band transponders. The broad range of services provided by the satellite community in the C-band are essential today for a balanced and equitable development of these services across the planet,” Bureau adds.

Balkheyour believes that taking away portion of the C-band will harm end users and consumers, especially in the emerging markets as it depletes satellite operators’ resources to establish relevant telecommunication and broadcasting services associated with these resources. “Mobile operators will not be able to serve those consumers by nature of their limited geographical coverage and they will affect satellite operators ability to do so,” he said.

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