Timothy Ashong, RASCOM Acting Managing Director, Shares RASCOM’s New Plans

Mr Timothy Adi Ashong, RASCOM MD

The Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (RASCOM) is dedicated to offering telecommunications, direct TV broadcasting, and Internet access to underserved rural areas across Africa. In May 2023, the organisation changed personnel by appointing its new Acting Managing Director, Mr Timothy Adi Ashong.

Mr Timothy is a telecommunication engineer with over 20 years of experience in the telecom industry. He started as a network engineer in 2002 with InternetGhana, an internet service provider in Ghana. After seven years, he joined the National Communications Authority, the regulatory body in charge of telecommunications in Ghana. There, he was in charge of satellite regulations. In 2015, he was elected the Vice Chairman of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for the satellite sector (ITU-R Study Group 4). He was re-elected in 2019 at the World Radiocommunication Conference. His tenure ends in November 2023. Similarly, he is the chair of the satellite regulations committee of ECOWAS and the Vice Chair of the African Telecom Union for the satellite regulation sector.

Space in Africa met with the organisation’s new Managing Director to discuss the organisation’s plans, priorities, and challenges.

Can you describe RASCOM’s operations in Africa?

RASCOM was formed by the African member states in 1992 to champion satellite connectivity in Africa. The member states wanted to build an organisation that would manage and propel satellite connectivity on the continent and provide large-scale telecommunication infrastructure to hard-to-reach regions of Africa at low cost. RASCOM has launched only two satellites out of the planned 14 satellite projects. Although the first one failed due to technical difficulties, the second one was launched in 2010 and will de-orbit in 2030. This satellite operates in C and Ku-band for broadcasting, internet connectivity and GSM backhaul. So, through these satellites, RASCOM has been involved in several rural telephony initiatives for digital connectivity in various African countries. For instance, in Congo, we used our capabilities to help indigenous telecom companies extend their reach to rural and previously unconnected regions. We did something similar in Cameroon, as well. We currently have some work going on in Cameroon with Camtel, a local telecommunications company. Furthermore, the  Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) of Cote d’Ivoire uses our capacity to broadcast its services to other Francophone countries. Earlier in June, we signed an extension agreement to continue providing our services to them for another three years.

Could you provide insights into how RASCOM addresses the challenge of providing telecommunication services and Internet access in rural areas of Africa? What technological and operational approaches are being employed to overcome these challenges? Follow-up on Q2

One of the significant challenges has been access to adequate funding. RASCOM has a commercial arm, Rascomstar-Qaf, created and incorporated in Mauritius in 2022. The company provides commercial satellite connectivity services to the member states. RASCOM is a shareholder in Rascomstar, with the plan that Rascomstar will generate revenue to fund RASCOM’s operations. However, Rascomstar’s operations have been affected by the US economic sanctions placed on Libya in 2011; due to this, the company became embroiled in a financial crisis it is still recovering from, which has affected RASCOM’s source of income. Thus, RASCOM has been facing financial difficulties and operational challenges. Over the years, other African states, like the Ivorian government, have provided financial assistance. Also, there is still so much work to do regarding realising RASCOM’s 1992 goals and objectives, and what we are presently focused on is how to make those goals a reality in the present day.

Part of RASCOM’s original plan was to implement 14 communication satellite projects. The organisation has launched two. What are your plans regarding the rest of the project?

RASCOM signed an MoU with ASECNA to launch a satellite for their SBAS operations. We will meet again in September to discuss the preliminary stages of the project further. Moreso, we have long and short-term plans that we have already begun to put in place. Many African countries have launched their proprietary satellites, which is significant progress for the continent; thus, RASCOM will explore partnerships with member states that have launched their communication satellites. These partnerships will focus on how we can help them resell their available satellite capacity and other similarly symbiotic plans. Currently, there is no information on the implementation of the 14-satellite project.

RascomStar-Qaf is a joint private venture. What is the current shareholding structure?

The major shareholders of the company are the Libyan government, RASCOM, and Thales Alenia Space (TAS). TAS has an 11% stake in Rascomstar,  the Libyan company has 65%,  and RASCOM has 24%. This structure is for the currently launched satellites. 

Right now, the board’s structure could change as we are currently calling for additional partnerships. However, if we receive adequate support from the member states, we may not need to bring on new partners. We are now looking at how non-geostationary satellites can serve the interests of our continent, the kind of connectivity services they need, how many satellites would be required to meet the needs for each service, the cost of this infrastructure, and the steps to take to achieve it. RASCOM intends to present this before the board of directors in its next meeting. 

As the new organisation head, what projects or objectives are you prioritising for RASCOM?

I am focusing on increasing our stakeholder’s knowledge and awareness of RASCOM. A lot of partners and potential stakeholders do not know what RASCOM does. Therefore, I have been making presentations at different workshops and industry events, like the ECOWAS World Radio Communications Conference in Niger, the Southern Africa Development Commission (SADC) Satellite Regulations Workshop, the Spectrum Management Workshop that was recently held in Cameroon, and so forth. In so doing, I can make important presentations and pitch RASCOM’s plans to the Member States. For instance, three weeks ago, I met with the Cameroonian Minister of Telecommunications and Posts, the deputy DG of the national communications regulatory authority, and other stakeholders in Cameroon to discuss RASCOM’s future plans. In addition, we will be exploring how to compete with foreign satellite operators in the African satellite communications market and how RASCOM can position itself to cater to developmental needs and take the business opportunities the market offers. Right now, I am meeting with the communication ministers of different member states to renew the RASCOM project and make sure it is included in their national plans. I believe the continent has the required expertise to take on these innovative projects; however, we need African countries to support and commit to indigenous projects.

The African Space Agency has now been inaugurated, and to be the focal point of Africa’s collaboration with African and non-African partners, the agency is open to partnership opportunities. How does RASCOM intend to work with the African Space Agency to promote satellite connectivity in Africa and reduce our dependence on foreign satellite networks?

The mandate of the African Space Agency is very broad, with plans for all segments of the African space industry. However, RASCOM is focused on championing satellite connectivity in the continent. The plan is to work in synergy with the agency to realise this goal for both organisations. Our collaboration will lean into our individual strengths to ensure that we bridge the digital gap in Africa.

What are the milestones the organisation has achieved so far in 2023? What can we look forward to before the year ends?

As mentioned earlier, RASCOM’s main focus for this year is to increase visibility. We have been participating in industry events, reinforcing our corporate communication strategies to put RASCOM in space it previously was not, like certain social media platforms. We are presently revamping our website and so forth. The aim is for people to see what RASCOM is about and open the organisation to future investments from member states and other potential partners.

What are RASCOM’s plans for future expansion and innovation regarding service offerings, technology adoption, and geographical coverage? How do these plans align with the evolving needs of the African population?

For our long-term plans, one of our major focus is continuing with our satellite projects. We have to plan for the launch of another satellite before our current infrastructure reaches the end of its lifespan in 2030. We have also seen the immense opportunities available in the African satellite communications market, which has increased foreign investments and participation in the African space scene. As such, our project is looking to build and launch communication satellites that can cover the whole of Africa and compete with foreign satcom service providers. RASCOM needs its member states to reinforce their financial commitment to the organisation in order for its plans to come to fruition. In addition, RASCOM is working towards expanding its presence by opening offices in all African countries in the future and reevaluating its current business model to increase revenue and profits in the long term. 

What do you think the future of connectivity is like in Africa?

Satellite connectivity is the future of innovation in Africa. From IoT (Internet of Things) applications to broadcast and internet services, which will spill over to socioeconomic benefits like bridging the digital divide and increasing education and health systems in Africa. There are a lot of opportunities to explore on the continent.


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