The Lagos-based company which describes itself as “disruptive Africa-focused satellite-based connectivity-as-a-service and integrated digital inclusion ecosystem”, is developing a range of services and products across mobile connectivity, telehealth, edtech, agrotech, fintech, messaging and voice. These products and services aim to deliver digital inclusion services to millions of people in remote and rural communities in Africa.
Starting with rural communities in Nigeria, BeepTool carried out a market study of 200 communities across the country’s six geopolitical zones to understand the unique needs of rural dwellers, and how digital services can be deployed to the service of these communities.
Inspired by insights discovered in this study, BeepTool is on track to roll out its digital services and technology solutions to about 200 rural communities in Nigeria.
In an exclusive chat with Space in Africa, John Enoh, the Founder and CEO of BeepTool Communications, disclosed the company’s approach to the market, service offerings, partnerships and recent regulatory approvals.
In what appears to be a phase one of its approach-to-market mechanism, BeepTool has built affordable android satellite smartphones called Oyi-1. It has recently received type-approval for its commercial rollout by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country’s telecommunications regulator. A look at NCC’s list of type-approved headsets on its website confirms this.
Enoh revealed that 5,000 pieces of the Oyi-1 satellite smartphones are currently on their way to the Nigerian market, where they will be distributed to farmers in rural communities at almost a giveaway price.
The satellite smartphones have pre-installed service apps within the BeepTool ecosystem that offer a range of services from financial services such as micro-lending, payments, insurance to telehealth, messaging, video chat, video conferencing and VoIP, among others. Enoh believes the goal is to recoup expenses by layering recurring revenue streams within the pre-installed services apps and other third-party services that will be incorporated into the ecosystem at a later stage.
“We are also experimenting with an advert module in the form of TV, image or audio adverts within our ecosystem of digital applications. The ecosystem further provides a platform for other companies that want to reach out to this market we are creating to access the network,” he added.
Deployment of satellite connectivity terminals to power its ecosystem
Beyond distributing satellite smartphones, BeepTool has also secured regulatory approval from the NCC to deploy, install, operate or sell telecommunications equipment within Nigeria, paving the way for the company to operate its satellite hub base station in partnership with licensed satellite operators in Nigeria. NCC has updated its website to show approval for BeepTool Communications.
BeepTool’s ground-based connectivity base stations serve as distribution hubs for internet beams from satellites in Geostationary orbits (GEO) and constellations from Low Earth Orbits (LEO) to power its ecosystem of satellite smartphones, telehealth system called Lafiya, IoT network and other digital applications.
BeepTool has inked deals with more than twelve GEO and LEO satellite operators including Sky and Space, OneWeb, SES, NIGCOMSAT, Telesat, Intelsat, Kepler, among others.
Enoh says they are exploring further strategic collaborations with satellite operators as the connectivity base stations have in-built optimization systems that select the best high-speed and more affordable network at any given time.
“We linked our ground station terminal to be generic, to use any of those providers at any given point. That is what makes our network to be reliable in terms of network availability and reliance” Enoh said. “It is about pricing and better performance of the network. The way our system and terminal work is, it looks for the best performing providers and routes itself to the cheaper ones among the best performers.”
Use of TV White Space and regulatory approval
Following NCC’s latest guideline on the use of TV White Spaces, BeepTool is collaborating with Singapore-based Whizpace to experiment with the new technology, and to extend the reach of its satellite internet, cutting 95 per cent of the cost of laying cables or setting up masts.
“We are working with other equipment manufacturers, and we have been following the latest guideline released by NCC on TV White Space. We have been able to combine TV White Space in our terminal. For instance, if our terminal is in village A, you can share internet with village B and C with a very small and affordable device instead of laying cables or building masts,” Enoh explains the company’s breakthrough in the use of TV White Space. According to him, telecoms operators can use BeepTool’s TV White Space equipment to distribute internet to up to 12 kilometres without laying cable or setting up masks.
“We have successfully combined TV White Space technology with our satellite equipment, and it has been tested and proven very OK to transmit internet for up to 12 kilometres. It can be used as a repeater for further kilometres even up to 200km within point-to-point operating multiple for connectivity in rural communities” he added.
“We have sent a letter to NCC requesting to do a proof of concept in a few communities using the TV White Space. One part, we would put our equipment to an internet source in a city closer to a village and transmit the internet up to 12 kilometres.”
BeepTool’s first TV White Space equipment, developed in partnership with Whizpace, will be sent to NCC in the coming 2-3 weeks for a proof of concept test and type-approval which is in fulfilment of NCC’s regulatory requirement before the deployment of the system for commercial use in Nigeria.
“TV White Spaces can save operators up to 95 per cent cost of laying fibre or setting up masts in rural communities. It became a breakthrough technology for us to extend connectivity in our ecosystem.”
John Enoh confirmed that the company is still raising investment and will be closing its current round soon.
“We are talking to a lot of investors, even in the U.S right now, and we would be closing from fundraising very soon. We are still negotiating at the moment, and we are almost at the last lap.”
BeepTool has been mostly self-funded and bootstrapping its growth since 2014 when it was founded. In April 2018, the company made a public announcement stating its readiness to raise investment from strategic investors and partners to scale its operations.
On August 15, 2019, the startup updated its Crunchbase page to indicate that it has successfully raised an undisclosed seed investment from Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe, one of Nigeria’s foremost engineers, inventor and angel investor. The update follows an earlier publication released by Prof Ekekwe, announcing that he had taken some “equity and seat on BeepTool’s board”.
“I have been working with this entity for largely a year, and decided that now is the time to get fully involved”, Prof Ekekwe said. “Our vision in this company is to take the services which Nigerians in urban areas are enjoying to rural communities. To do that, we have to create a connectivity system supported by services.”
Although the Oyi-1 smartphone and associated satellite connectivity services are planned for commercial roll-out in Q2 2020, BeepTool’s Lafiya telehealth platform has already been deployed in a few communities in Nigeria. The company is currently looking at expanding the platform to many communities in Nigeria alongside the planned launch of its full suite of satellite services in Q2.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.