In our bid to promote the commercial space ecosystem in Africa, we recently announced the #NewSpaceAfrica column aimed at featuring the story of a new Space startup in Africa, promoting their work and giving insight on how they are contributing to building the commercial space ecosystem in Africa. Last week, we featured Astrofica and this week, we are featuring Mzansisat, a startup on a mission to launch an African owned geo-stationary broadband satellite.
We understand that there is a lot of information about Mzansisat on the official website and other media mentions. However, can you tell us more about the origin of Mzansisat and how the company links to the Stellenbosch-based StellSat?
Victor: The process of creating MzansiSat revolved very much around finding a name that connects people and their idea of what a modern South Africa Shall be, without all the political by-work there usually is in naming thing… And we are very clear in our position who we’re catering for:South Africa. Mzansi. One evening we decided to roll the dice and filed the Copyright and brand. It went through. Now we’re MzansiSat – A brand that belongs to StellSat of Stellenbosch. Our satellite is a satellite for South Africa, by South Africans and hence the name of the brand reflects the values we’re holding up.
Technical talent shortage is largely a huge challenge for many startups in Africa. How many fulltime and part-time employees make up the Mzansisat workforce? Do you have any challenge hiring technical talent locally?
Victor: Right now MzansiSat is a pure greenfield operation running lean and mean. Our team is small and efficient and we try to source everything and everybody as much as possible from South Africa – Which is essentially what a South African business should do. Currently, we’re a BBBEE Level 4 – Exempt Microenterprise. The skills shortage is indeed a Challenge and we devised two key strategies as outlined below to address skills shortage:
1. Scholarships – Create a scholarship that aims to form 5-15 new engineers in the field of space/satellite engineering per year at universities across the country given to South Africans who display great skill and interest to pursue a career in space and transmission technologies.
2. Recruitment Runs in Academic Institutions – In order to make our case stick in front of the absolute bureaucrats proving that no alternative hires were available up to date within BBBEE guidelines. Host days at universities where we seek out individuals qualified and interested to pursue formation in the SATCOM field, Furthermore, showing continued effort in sourcing ethnically diverse and highly skilled personnel.
A lot of what we do can’t be taught in classrooms and we have an active “Hands-On” approach internally. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning on the job and understand processes by observing and executing them rather than reading about them in specialized literature only.
From the information available in the media, Mzansisat has two complementing sides to its business: B2G and B2B. Can you explain the model in details and what informed the model?
Victor: Essentially we’re not aiming at the consumer market. Also, we do not compete in the classical sense with broadband suppliers on a national level in the classical sense. We supplement these suppliers – be them private companies or government entities. Data-supply shortages in local networks and the accessing of new markets are enabled and accelerated through our technology. It requires minimal ground-infrastructure, unlike Ka-band. The infrastructure required is very low cost and may already be deployed in areas of operation. The low cost and ubiquity of our signal allow each and every point in Africa – however small and remote to be connected. Africa urgently needs to expand internet and online resources rapidly and this has to start at the infrastructure level. MzansiSat wants to connect communities and stakeholders by providing fast, cheap service. Increased industrial and economic activity in Africa demands an increased need for connectivity due to the higher incidence of mobile/electronic devices, along with an increasingly service-focused economy. The same goes to trigger it.
Mzansisat want to connect 80% of the unconnected rural Africans to more reliable and fast internet. How do you intend to achieve this feat in the long run?
Victor: By providing not just service but also a functional and reliable infrastructure to all corners out our market at the lowest possible cost. The issue is not just to provide users with service – They also need the proper gateways to benefit from it – Hardware that usually is very cost-intensive. We factored that cost of market acquisition in and will shed more light on the strategy in 2019.
Why do you think telecommunication players in the African market are not exploring satellite-based internet services as much as the potentials it holds?
Victor: This is unfair to all the players. All of us. It’s not that we’re not exploring the potential and drawbacks of the technologies – it’s more a question of cost and price of the service. Also the different transmission bands It’s about introducing profitable but also cost-effective means of satellite comms into the Southern African Market; In an economic configuration where money stays in our economy and the services cater to a digital landscape that on one hand is still in its early stages and on the other side has the opportunity to leapfrog several “legacy” generations of technologies, Western and Northern operators struggle to maintain and replace.
We read that Mzansisat aims to launch a satellite, MzansiSat-1, into the orbit by 2022. Can you talk about the specification of the MzansiSat-1? What components of the satellite and engineering talents are locally sourced?
Victor: As much as we can we’ll have talent and materials and work-hours sourced and based in South Africa. Unfortunately, SA’s industrial complex has no capacity and skillset at this time to build its own satellite; Hence we’ll source our equipment from Overseas. We are looking to operate a C- and Ku- Band Satellite with coverage of the South African Territory.