The Role of Satellite in Building a Connected Africa; Excerpts

On 20 October 2023, Space in Africa hosted the third webinar from its webinar series titled “The Role of Satellite in Building a Connected Africa.“ Over 150 attendees registered from NewSpace industry leaders, heads of national space agencies, private investors and venture capitalists, NewSpace founders, policymakers and government officials, and other critical stakeholders to share strategies on the practical implementation strategies for adopting satellite communication technologies and solutions to bridging Africa’s connectivity gap.

The discussion focused on educating the audience on satellites’ critical role in expanding connectivity across Africa and delving into the inner workings of satellite communication technologies to illustrate how they can effectively reach remote and underserved areas.  

Check here to rewatch the webinar.

These speakers included Dr Zolana, General Manager, National Space Programme Management Office, Angola (GGPEN), Mr Timothy Ashong, Acting DG, Regional African Satellite Communication Organisation (RASCOM) and  Engr Tukur Mohammed Lawal, Former CEO of Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT). 

Here is a recap of the major webinar bulletin

Engr Tukur stated how NIGCOMSAT addresses the disparities between rural and urban connectivity challenges in Nigeria and its strategies to extend satellite services to underserved regions. He began by emphasising the critical role of backbone connectivity as the foundation for transmitting knowledge and fostering a business-based economy in Nigeria and worldwide. In Nigeria, broadband connectivity is essential, aligning with the National Broadband Plan (2020-2025).

Furthermore, Engr Tukur acknowledged that the challenge lies in areas where attrition is evident, but he believed there were opportunities to benefit from this crucial aspect of the business. NIGCOMSAT provides broadband, broadcasting, etc. services, mainly using its KA band, making it a valuable resource for underserved areas. Achieving this entails the provision of infrastructure, leveraging their satellite services that cover Nigeria, parts of West Africa, and some areas of Asia. This is especially important in areas where terrestrial communication services, including remote hinterlands, are unavailable or insufficient. He also mentioned that NIGCOMSAT could provide backhaul connectivity, enhance local networks, and facilitate connectivity in underserved and unserved areas. Engr. Tukur stressed the economic importance of connectivity for the overall economy, including emerging technologies like blockchain and big data analysis. He highlighted the need for satellite facilities to bridge the connectivity gap in Nigeria, especially since the country currently lags behind the NCC’s connectivity targets.

Dr Zolana, while expressing his views on the specific ways he envisions the Angosat-2 satellite expediting the realisation of critical components within the SADC regional satellite sharing infrastructure and how it will enhance the project’s overall goals, particularly in terms of improved connectivity and cooperation among member states noted the significance of the Angosat-2 satellite in accelerating critical components of the SADC regional satellite sharing project’s infrastructure. He highlighted how it contributes to the project’s overarching goals, particularly enhancing connectivity and cooperation among member states. Dr Zolana expressed excitement, noting that the lack of connectivity is a significant challenge affecting millions of Africans directly. He discussed the GGPEN’s role in building infrastructure for improved connectivity within the country and supporting other SADC member countries. Dr Zolana also mentioned the pride in Angosat-2, the only HTS (High Throughput Satellite) in Africa, and a recent project called “Connect Angola” aimed at connecting remote areas. He stressed the need to address the historical challenges in connecting Africans, advocating for developing indigenous capabilities and emphasising the importance of long-term sustainability rather than relying on external technology and services. 

Speaking on the roles of regional intergovernmental organisations like RASCOM in promoting collaboration and coordination among African nations to maximise the benefits of satellite technology for socio-economic growth, Mr Timothy highlighted the crucial roles that RASCOM play in fostering collaboration and coordination among African countries to harness the full potential of satellite technology for socioeconomic advancement. He highlighted RASCOM’s specific mission as a regional body dedicated to providing telecommunications, direct TV broadcasting, and Internet access to underserved African rural areas.

Furthermore, Mr. Timothy underscored that RASCOM currently operates one satellite serving over 20 African nations. He emphasised the importance of establishing partnerships between African countries to integrate satellite connectivity initiatives into their development plans. He noted the increasing presence of foreign satellite communication operators in Africa, attributing their interest to the unique opportunities the African market offers.

Speaking on NIGCOMSAT’s initiatives to promote STEM education and capacity building in Nigeria and how these initiatives align with the broader goal of bridging the digital divide, Engr Tukur recounted a recent conversation with representatives from Nigerian universities, underscoring the need to enhance Tele-education to provide connectivity in communities facing challenges such as security issues, fuel costs, and logistical barriers. Enabling education in the comfort of individuals’ surroundings is crucial to facilitating their engagement with global educational opportunities.

Furthermore, Engr Tukur highlighted NIGCOMSAT’s collaboration with commercial entities and the Federal Ministry of Education to leverage opportunities for mentoring young students, sharing experiences, and organising site visits and career talks in schools. These efforts are seen as vital contributions to inclusive education and knowledge dissemination. He also stressed the importance of events like this webinar, as they provide a platform for sharing insights with a broader audience. Engr Tukur believed Africa could enhance its collective agenda by looking inward and creating avenues for like-minded individuals to unite, strategise, and improve the region.

Dr Zolana, discussing how GGPEN supports tech startups and entrepreneurs in Angola and what role these startups play in the satellite technology sector, emphasised that the highest priority is the need for Africa to reinvent itself and its approach to space programmes. He pointed out that the traditional approach of governments spearheading space programmes with significant funding is outdated, and the future lies in commercial companies driving the industry’s growth. While acknowledging the need for a realistic approach, Dr Zolana mentioned their recent efforts during World Space Week, where they reached out to major European companies, especially from France, and invited them to Angola. This initiative also involved inviting startups from Portugal and facilitating knowledge sharing on developing suitable business models for African space endeavours.

In the pursuit of fostering entrepreneurship, Dr Zolana discussed initiating the “Connect Angola ISP kit” for startups, which involves leasing Vsat communication kits and Wi-Fi infrastructure. This initiative aims to empower startups to provide internet access to underserved communities. Dr Zolana highlighted the importance of focusing on user needs and developing unique business models for Africa rather than simply copying models from other continents. 

Sharing his opinion on the critical gaps for Africa to enjoy maximum benefit from satellite technology, Dr Zolana noted the critical role of government intervention and strategic partnerships in overcoming the digital divide in Africa and the importance of quality education and access to technology for the continent’s development.

He stressed the importance of government intervention in providing internet access to rural areas since the private sector often hesitates due to the lack of profitability. Dr Zolana suggested changing existing policies and creating incentives to encourage private sector involvement in regions with no apparent profit. Furthermore, Dr Zolana highlighted the necessity of capacity building in space technology, emphasising the importance of investing in top-notch education and infrastructure. He reiterated that learning space technology requires a genuine commitment to quality education and collaboration with institutions with a great pedigree for delivering top-notch education.

In addition, Dr Zolana mentioned the challenge of ensuring access to technology in countries with sufficient coverage but limited affordability. He proposed working with the private sector, providing tax incentives, and exploring leasing options to make technology accessible and affordable for all Africans.

Keep an eye on our website and social media platforms for updates on upcoming episodes in Space in Africa's webinar series.

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