Satellite technology closes Africa's broadband gap

African satellite communications provider Intersat Africa and European satellite operator SES Astra started the year with a firework.

During an impressive event in Nairobi, Kenya on 22 January, 2010, the two companies celebrated the official market launch of Get2Net, a low-cost satellite-based broadband service based on SES Astra’s successful satellite broadband technology Astra2Connect.
Last summer, both companies have closed a distribution agreement to market the technology in East and Central Africa.

Connecting Africa via satellite
The solution was much wished for as Africa is desperately in need of reliable broadband connections.
Despite the fact that East and Central Africa have recently been connected to the information superhighway through submarine fibre, only users in urban areas will benefit from this Internet revolution. The last mile connectivity is still a challenge and this is where Astra2Connect fits in.
“Fast Internet is vital for economic and social growth and important for Africa if it wants to keep up with the development in other continents,” stated Nobert Willems, Managing Director of Astra Broadband Services, SES Astra business unit responsible for satellite broadband.
Senior government officials, industry representatives and journalists were present for the launch of Get2Net Satellite Broadband, among those important names such as Hon. Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information & Communications. Together with Abdul Bakhrani, Intersat Africa’s CEO, Norbert Willems highlighted the potential for the Astra2Connect technology in the region.
“When we started to develop Astra2Connect, we wanted to create a satellite-based broadband service for end users which is just as reliable as a VSAT service but only costs a fraction of the price,“ Willems said.
“The aim was to offer a solution for households in regions without terrestrial broadband networks. In early 2007, Astra2Connect was ready to be launched in the market. Until today, SES Astra closed distribution agreements in 16 European countries – and now it has expanded to Africa.
“We don’t see why a product that successful in Europe shouldn’t do well in Africa as well,” added Bakhrani. “We are in contact with many offices and SMEs who are in need of a stable broadband connection outside the metropolitan areas.
They are desperately seeking an alternative to exorbitantly priced WiMAX and mobile solutions.”
Astra2Connect delivers exactly what these customers are looking for.
Reasonable prices, reliable connections and an immediate availability everywhere within the footprint of the satellite. White spots no longer exist.
“It is our aim to target the entire Sub-Saharan region,” added Bakhrani. To realise this, Intersat Africa has teamed up with local partners such as Kenya Data Networks for the distribution of Get2Net in the respective markets.
They will offer the service with download speeds of up to 1 Mbit/s, customers simply need a 100 cm satellite antenna and a modem to connect to the Internet.

Rural Africa now logs on to the Internet via satellite
Apart from their regular distribution, Intersat Africa has recognised another important potential of the Astra2Connect satellite broadband technology in rural Africa.
In the past 12 months, the company has realised a project called the Rural Internet Kiosk which offers secluded communities an easy and cost-efficient way to enhance their offers in education, health awareness, agriculture and e-Governance.
Approximately 90 per cent of rural Africa lives without electricity and majority of the population has to walk many miles to overcrowded schools.
Few communities have libraries or resource centres and are thus socially and economically disadvantaged. And access to the Internet is completely out of question. With the aim to bridge the digital divide even in the remotest areas of Africa and to participate in building a future for the next generation, Intersat Africa is using the Astra2Connect technology to set up thousands of so-called Rural Internet Kiosks, independent, self-contained and solar-powered Internet stations which connect three PCs with access to the fast Internet.
The Rural Internet Kiosk can be placed in virtually any location, and it is used by community initiatives which provide the rural population with vital services.
Farmers can now easily access information about crop growing and climate conditions, students are able to carry out effective research for their studies, families can harness information on health treatment and businesses are able to communicate faster and cheaper.
The effect for the region is unrivaled, states Bakhrani. “Astra2Connect and the Rural Internet Kiosk simplify everything. What the people here used to do in two days, they can now do in two hours. For many, their lives have changed tremendously.”
SES Astra and Intersat Africa clearly believe in the future of satellite broadband via the Astra2Connect technology.
For that reason, they have decided to expand their cooperation once again and will soon also offer Get2Net Satellite Broadband in West Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea.

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