Submarine cable companies are very common in the African communication market. Some of the popular cables in Africa include Seacom, SAT-3, WACS, GLO-1, MainOne, EaSSy and ACE.
These companies have continually improved communications through their cables placed in oceans and seas connected to Africa. They’ve also had multiple collaborations to increase broadband connectivity in Africa further. Recently Seacom partnered with Tata communications in South Africa to increase the level of high-speed connectivity between Africa, Europe and Asia.
This partnership is meant to make South Africa’s Tata leverage Seacom extend its IP and Global Dedicated Ethernet service platforms into the country. In addition to this, Seacom will support Tata Communications’ IP and GDE customers across Southern and East Africa.
However, although submarine cables have offered substantial growth, there are still several shortcomings of this provision.
According to ITU’s 2019 ICT data research, 79% of Africa’s population is covered by a 3G or higher mobile broadband network. And even though the world is nearing a use of internet saturation (with Europe being the region with the highest Internet use at 82.5%), Africa remains the region with the lowest internet use at 28.2%.
Since submarine fibre optic cables require vast bodies of waters, communications in African countries around these areas, are seeing a huge improvement. But while coastal countries like South Africa, Kenya, and Namibia are really benefitting from the ongoing placement of more submarine fibres, the communication infrastructure in non- coastal Africa remains insufficient.
Sixteen African countries are all landlocked, which makes it nearly impossible to place these fibres across and further grant them the connectivity required.
According to the 2016 World Bank’s Digital Dividends report, landlocked countries pay at least $232 more than coastal countries every month to have broadband. Although this sounds expensive, it is nothing close to the cost of a single fibre installation in landlocked countries. So even if it’s still possible to provide this option to these countries, it is economically implausible for them to implement submarine fibre cables as their primary source of broadband.
This is why ITU encourages development in both national and regional carriers as well as digital links with cross-border inter-connectivity, which satellites can easily provide. With Botswana already increasing their capacity on the AMOS-7 communications satellites, we see great opportunities for landlocked countries to leverage communications satellite for broadband access.
It simply means, there will be an increasing demand for an infrastructure built in and around landlocked African countries to address the short supply of the high demand for ICT services that could be solved with communications satellites.
Currently, some of these land-locked countries have already started launching their very own communications satellite to address this. In February 2019, the government of Rwanda partnered with OneWeb to successfully launch a communications satellite aimed at connecting online schools to the Internet.
To also partake in the expansion of Africa’s reach, submarine fibre companies are partnering with other satellite communications companies to improve connectivity.
MainOne recently partnered with Avanti Communications, a provider of satellite data communications services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This partnership offers satellite broadband services to everywhere by leveraging Avanti’s HYLAS 4 Satellite and Ground Earth Station (GES) infrastructure. With the HYLAS 4 satellite, which provides coverage to all of West Africa, MainOne can provide connectivity to businesses across areas with limited or no fibre coverage through VSAT dishes.
Asides this partnership, other companies are also interested in contributing to the coverage in African landlocked countries. SES, for instance, dedicates a number of its satellites in increasing the current broadband in landlocked countries. Currently, they cover Africa through their over 10 GEO satellites and their entire fleet of 20 O3b MEO satellites.
Another is Zuckerberg’s Satellite ‘Athena’ which is dedicated to Africa. Although its predecessor, the AMOS-6 faced a major setback, it’s scheduled to launch soon.
The major advantage of communication satellite systems over submarine fibre cables is its coverage since satellites can be configured to provide internet and communications to any part of the world where fibre may not be deployable.
Even though the satellite still has its own shortcomings like being susceptible to bad weather, it is still the biggest alternative available to landlocked countries in Africa.