People 'n' Issues

Broadband can drive economies across Africa

January 16th, 2017
Africa’s legacy broadband infrastructure offers the continent the opportunity to leapfrog technology. FARHAD KHAN of Yahsat believes there is an opportunity for the continent to broadly become an early and easy adopter of new technologies.
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As Africa’s economies continue to grow, more of the continent’s residents have been provided with a higher standard of living and additionally possess increased disposable income. The direct correlation between investment in broadband connectivity and the growth in economic activity has been well established, with research from the GSM Association amongst others, suggesting that for every 10 per cent increase in broadband connectivity, the GDP of developing nations rises by 1.38 per cent.  So, the impact of a 30 per cent rise in broadband connectivity across Africa in the coming decade would have a major positive economic benefit.

Africa’s relatively porous, legacy broadband infrastructure offers the continent the opportunity to leapfrog technology and roll out cutting edge, contemporary networks; given there are relatively few issues regarding network integration and regulatory red tape.  Therefore, there is a real opportunity for the continent to broadly become an early – and easy – adopter of new technologies.

The broadband revolution is already well underway across Africa, and there is no shortage of focus on providing the continent with affordable, reliable and  stable broadband connectivity. Take for example the vision of Internet.org and the innovative ideas to provide connectivity and access.  Some of these innovations include:

  • Facebook’s plans for Wi-Fi delivered by drones
  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX adopting reusable launchers to reduce the capital cost of providing broadband via satellite
  • The potential of Li-Fi to deliver high capacity, low power connectivity

One of the exciting perspectives to the broadband story for Africa is that real gains can be made now, today. Yahsat is in the unique position to be able to deliver stable, high powered, affordable broadband connectivity to our footprint immediately. We are in a unique and advantageous position to deploy our fleet of Ka-band satellites, utilising our capacity and spot beams to optimise the broadband pipe, to where it is needed most – efficiently and reliably. Next year our coverage area will widen even further with the launch of our third satellite, giving Yahsat the potential to reach 60 per cent of Africa’s population across 28 countries.

The advantages of satellite communications services are numerous and significant – offering stable, affordable broadband connectivity that, in turn, has the ability to change the fortunes of a nation – and its people, for the better. The provision of improved education, better healthcare, stronger, sustainable economic growth, and social development are all potential benefits that can be reaped by investing in the appropriate broadband technology.

We are already seeing first-hand the benefits that satellite technology is bringing to communities and individuals in Africa. Take the example of Eastern Cape in South Africa, a region that covers 65,000 square miles. Outside of the major cities, the province is diverse in terms of landscape, and home to many rural communities. These remote communities rely on local resources to stay informed and educated, with community libraries playing a key role. Traditionally these libraries have been underserved in terms of connectivity, meaning library-to-library communications and public internet access have been unreliable.  With our satellite broadband service, YahClick, and service partner Vox Telecom, we joined forces with The National Library to provide satellite broadband internet services to 207 public libraries in the Eastern Cape, covering a population of over 6 million. Communities across the Eastern Cape now have easier access to information and knowledge, enhancing the lives of millions of people.

When it comes to public services, they are easily accessible in urban areas; however, their availability across remote communities remains rather low. Home to one of the world’s largest national pension funds, South Africa has over 1.2 million people needing access to funds to be able to subsist during their retirement. Surprisingly, an estimated 10% of its eligible citizens are unaware of or unable to access these funds. Hence, there was a need to provide always-on broadband connectivity to allow real-time access to people’s pension. Again, with Vox Telecom, we worked with the South Africa Government Employees Pensions Fund to provide a solution through our YahClick Go service. Government pensions fund field service employees were able to mobilise their services in vans, with real-time access to the government pension system. Unhindered by the likes of mountains and inclement weather, they enabled access in the remotest areas, and today, all 1.2 million members of the GEPF and their beneficiaries can now gain access to valuable financial services thanks to satellite broadband connectivity.

The applications are endless for schools, medical centres, commerce/banking, as well as for connecting under serviced, off-network areas such as rural communities. Last September, under the auspices of the United Nations, countries adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years, and we believe broadband connectivity plays an instrumental role in the achievement of these ambitions, to the benefit of all, including the People of Africa.

* Farhad Khan, Chief Commercial Officer, Yahsat 

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