Twoobii [pronounced “to be”] is a smart satellite business broadband service managed by Q-KON Africa. It has an advanced quality-of-service feature that supports seamless integration with customer networks for voice, data, video, and point of sale services. The all-in-one satellite service is available for resellers, ICT service incubators and business end-users in remote locations requiring reliable and seamless broadband, data and voice connectivity.
Twoobii can operate on solar power to provide an “off-grid” solution for businesses and retail operations, using solar power sources further underlines its remote location and sustainability credentials. These factors make Twoobii a game-changer for businesses in Africa. Currently, the service is available in SADC countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
To learn more about the Twoobii Smart Satellite Service, Space in Africa had a chat with the Group CEO of Q-KON Africa and the chief engineer of Twoobii, Dr Dawie de Wet.
Dr Dawie has over 30 years of experience designing, engineering, developing and implementing wireless, microwave and satellite communication systems in Africa. During his time with Q-KON Africa, the company has demonstrated its communications technology prowess on numerous occasions, including:
- conducting the first IP-over-satellite tests for the then-PanAmSat Africa office (2000);
- developing the first Ku-band satellite broadband platform to service West Africa and later the entire continent (2005);
- building and operating the first large-scale satellite platform in South Africa (2010); and
- bringing the Twoobii product to market and offering best-of-both-worlds satellite broadband (2018).
Can you expand on the Smart Satellite Services concept?
Smart Satellite Services is a concept that we are using to explain the development of the Twoobii platform. Currently, the tag is quite unique to Twoobii, and we have not seen any other product evolving to this. However, we are in a rapidly developing technology environment, so we expect that to change soon.
Twoobii is the first Smart Satellite Service to feature additional functions and features that are unlocked with satellite technology. These features include reliable voice services, video surveillance and other real-time applications.
In addition, we have added content sharing, aggregation and management to the features to ensure a seamless link with video content sharing via Zoom or Google Teams or WhatsApp calls or Netflix. In a nutshell, Smart Satellite Service is a satellite technology that evolved to bring more functions and features to the market.
How does the integration to satellite work?
With the satellite positioned around Earth’s orbit [low, medium or geostationary orbit], the customer would receive a satellite terminal – a dish/antennae and a decoder/modem, similar to DSTV’s installation kit. Typically, after installation, the customer will be connected via WiFi to the Twoobii satellite router, which then connects to the satellite. It is a point-to-point connectivity from the customer’s premises over the terminal to the satellite and back to the ground station in Johannesburg, South Africa. The integration is seamless, using a standard WiFi integrated into the Twoobii system.
Is Twoobii only available as a fixed internet service, or is it also available for mobile usage?
Presently, Twoobii is a fixed satellite service (VSAT). We need to have some physical infrastructure to make it available for mobile usage. This is one of our future targets alongside our NewSpace, low and medium orbit technologies.
Our focus for this phase is on fixed installations. Of course, we understand that satellites have a broad spectrum making it possible to have a myriad of solutions. We focus on getting the cost point right, and at the moment, we are using fixed installations.
What are the key advantages of the Twoobii Smart Satellite Service?
Twoobii has the standard benefits of satellite, plus other specific advantages that make the solution stand out. A while ago, people described satellite services as slow, expensive and with a latency problem. The advantage of Twoobii as a Small Satellite Service is eliminating those myths, which means faster connectivity speed, better pricing and flexibility benefits tailored for business users.
Advantages for our customers include custom-made applications such as the point of sale (POS) service, designed particularly for merchants. In addition, the service provides reliable broadband for retail merchants, ensuring seamless connectivity for credit card readers.
This service is in demand in South Africa because merchants and traders have difficulty connecting their POS using LTE thanks to load shedding (planned power outages) and damage or theft to infrastructure, a challenge our solution directly tackles. To use this service, we have had to get the necessary certifications from financial institutions and are strictly adhering to guidelines set by them.
Point of sale is the big focus market for us at the moment. So, for instance, if you own a coffee shop, you will need customer bookings, a POS system that is unaffected by interruptions to electricity, and you might like to add WiFi accessibility for your customers, this is where we come in. Twoobii is strategically positioned to service this market at the moment – the business end-users. It is ideal for businesses, financial institutions, and other professionals whose core operation requires uninterrupted broadband connectivity.
How available is the Smart Satellite Service?
Twoobii is very available. Regarding the signal coverage area, it is available everywhere in Africa. Furthermore, Twoobii’s availability in terms of responsiveness is impeccable as we have very responsive operations. However, Twoobii is not the cheapest broadband out there if compared with Starlink and other models; it’s not made to compete with that.
The job of satellite and satellite product developers is to solve the problem for businesses at affordable pricing, and that’s the difference. We have changed the billing models to change the profitability and affordability of the company. It varies considerably; the idea here is to adapt the costing and billing to what makes sense for individual businesses.
What is the pricing for a single user?
There are solutions out there that are focused on the individual, which cost about ZAR 700. However, we are currently not targeting that market as our solution requires that the users be in a fixed location.
We have also developed our solution for customers, which entails installing a satellite terminal at a fixed location and deploying a WiFi hotspot solution as a community service. However, there is some discussion around the distribution because satellite terminals are still relatively pricey for large-scale consumer rollout.
How many countries is the service available in?
Twoobii is available in nine countries – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Previously, we developed some solutions in regions, including Northern and Western Africa, but the Twoobii solution is targeted at Southern Africa.
Do you have plans to move to other regions in Africa?
Yes, I believe that we can expand into other African regions as we move forward. But, of course, we are also not oblivious of the challenges associated with a pan-African project, but we are well poised to tackle any challenge that arises.
What effect would the Twoobii Smart Satellite have on Africa’s digital inclusion plan?
We are supporting that and hoping to make a difference in this regard. However, it is a big project requiring a long-term development plan. Twoobii’s role will be to enhance connectivity and digitalisation by providing broadband access to everyone, including the remote areas. If you consider school projects, government developments and general business, I believe that our solutions are very instrumental in driving the digitalisation from the enterprise/government/institution angle to the consumer environment. Satellite is arguably the best choice for connectivity in Africa [especially the remote areas], regarding the cost of deployment relative to other methods.
What are some of the barriers you have identified to doing this business?
One is regarding service delivery in the market. We are in a very niche industry. As such, we have had to scale through several regulatory hurdles concerning getting licences and permits to operate in different countries, which usually attracts some regulatory charges.
Also, because the satellite industry is an old industry, African regulators make provisions for satellites based on past technologies and precisely, which is not aligned with the current applications of satellites today.
We need to review and update the regulations to adapt them to the current development and align the requirements with the technology we have today.
Another challenge is perception, the general understanding of the market and satellites. We are addressing this by telling the story and educating the general populace. Generally, the market would be very attuned to the 3G, 4G and 5G fibre networks because the mobile operators have these discussions through various marketing models. However, there is no massive marketing behind satellites, so people won’t know that the satellite we have today is not the one they used in the 1960s. Therefore, we must keep educating and communicating innovative solutions to the people to change their mindset about satellites and their derived solutions.
What other innovative satellite solutions are you planning to introduce to the market?
There is a lot of development happening. Globally, I think the number of launches for the next ten years will be about 1,700 satellites per year. It indicates the phenomenal growth projection of the satellite industry, which has not yet bloomed in Africa. However, we are actively collaborating with international partners to improve the current possibilities by adding new technologies and features to the market.
Specifically, we will add new solutions to small satellite constellations, for instance, Starlink and a few other options. We will bring our solutions to the market by building on LEO’s lower latency with smaller terminals, which adds up to a faster connection with a slight cost reduction to make it more affordable to our end users. Also, with LEO, we can drive ease of deployment in a sense, with users installing their packages making physical installation redundant. Following our solutions on LEO, we will incorporate our offerings to MEO, which will be to complement fibre deployment and any other services that cannot be implemented via terrestrial applications.
We are also actively developing methods to drive the NewSpace agenda and enhance the implementation of the ensuing technologies. It is important because these technologies are predominantly developed from an international perspective, necessitating their adoption in the African environment. For instance, in terms of billings, we need to accept billing in every local currency. Our projection for the next five years is fascinating. The Twoobii Small Satellite Service is the first phase; we will follow up and expand on that.
What type of funding is available for this project?
Twoobii is a commercial business offering and, as such, is only privy to funding from like-minded partners looking to implement bespoke solutions using satellites. Sometimes, our partners are unlocking funding from implementing CSR (corporate social responsibilities) projects leveraging satellite solutions. For example, we have implemented some telemedicine projects with the University of Pretoria, where we received localised funding leveraged for satellite deployments.
Are you partnering with other companies to implement this service beyond the SADC region?
Yes, we are discussing extending our services beyond the Southern African region. We also get positive feedback from partners and potential clients from other regions, commending our value proposition. Therefore, we aim to scale our business across other areas focusing on end users and other entities looking to use our services.
Mustapha has a strong relationship with written words and enjoys elaborating on minor details with a plethora of information.