By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, South Africa, 20 June, 2012

Satellite is becoming an increasingly significant contender as a broadband alternative, especially in under-serviced and unserviced areas where other connectivity services do not reach, and in areas where copper theft is rife. Carlsen, technical director at Maxwell Technology, says in South Africa this includes areas in the northern Cape like Kimberly and Uppington, northern Limpopo, Middleburg, Witbank, Burgersfort, and the entire Eastern Cape north of East London through to what was the Transkei.

“There are also many other areas we have yet to identify.” He says there are about 1000 schools in SA that do not have internet.

“We have had meetings with the relevant authorities that say they are reluctant to role out open internet access in schools generally because they cannot control which sites are being accessed.” A satellite service can be up and running in less than two hours, and the service is provided by a signal in the sky and is therefore not vulnerably to copper theft.

This makes it ideal for farms, because there is no copper to cut, and it will work as long as there is power, which can be provided by solar energy. He says studies show that there are 600,000 households in South Africa that want broadband connectivity, but cannot get it due to lack of infrastructure.

Carlsen says the company is a national distributor for the SkyVine broadband satellite service. He says the setup cost is about R7,000, including the dish, mounting equipment, and a Wi-Fi router to allow connectivity while moving around the building.

The entry level monthly cost starts at R250, and gives download speeds of up to 4 megabits per second anywhere in South Africa and upload speeds of 256 kilobits per second. “We expect the cost to come down further depending on the volume of people connecting to the service.”

Jon Osler, MD for Africa at Intelsat, says there are currently 57 satellites in orbit that provide coverage over the African continent, and all of these are capable of supporting broadband communication. “Intelsat alone has 23 satellites that provide capacity to Africa,” He says some satellites focus on specific types of connectivity or specific areas, while others support multiple types of connectivity, such as a mix of traditional telephony,TV broadcast, broadband data services, and cellular connectivity in rural areas.

Satellites are flexible in delivering data services, and they offer reliable, ubiquitous coverage. They can pick up data from one point and deliver to another, and are also good at delivering from one source to many points, says Osler.

He says operators design the footprint of their satellites to optimise coverage to meet specific market demand. For example with satellite TV coverage is designed to deliver multiple channels to many small antennas, and in other cases coverage is designed to support all types of data services across all of southern Africa.

“You could also have one beam of a satellite covering the whole of South Africa and another covering Europe.” Satellite beams can also be connected, for example to enable customers to communicate across two continents.
Osler says technology advances are allowing newer satellites to deliver significantly more capacity through the same air space at the same cost. “Earlier satellites were limited in the amount of data they could transport,” he says.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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