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Using Satellites to connect Africa

New space projects see UK companies working with international partners, to develop satellite technology in emerging economies.

People often forget that Africa is not a country but a continent which ranks second behind Asia according to size as well as according to population. While internet connectivity is increasing, thanks to smartphones, there is still lack of fixed broadband availability. The speed of the broadband connection is also much less than that in developed countries. This is often due to lack of communications infrastructure and also due to lack of investment in the existing communications infrastructure.

The lack of (good) infrastructure has resulted in connectivity being unavailable to those who often need it. This is where satellite based connectivity has a role to play. Satellite broadband can not only deliver good speeds, it is also available everywhere. An initial investment is often needed for antenna and receiver equipment, but could be subsidised based on the broadband provider, length and type of contract. Finally, another major issue that needs to be considered is the lack of electricity, often unavailable and expensive.

These factors result in limited Internet availability. To counter this, governments of many countries as well as NGOs have invested in providing connectivity to communities and schools. In March, the UK Space Agency (UKSA) announced seven new space projects that will see UK companies working with international partners to develop satellite technology in emerging economies.

One of the projects, 'iKnowledge' will see UK based Avanti Communications deliver major ICT infrastructure and e-learning program to teachers across Tanzania. This program will equip up to 250 schools in rural and underserved areas of Tanzania with ICT infrastructure, including broadband Internet via satellite, alongside provision of ICT training and educational content for teachers to apply straight to the classroom. The iKnowledge project will hopefully improve quality levels of teaching in rural and remote areas in core curriculum subjects, alongside advancing teachers' digital literacy through a sustainable training model. The system is also dual-use, and when not in use by schools, it can be used by the local community, providing broadband connectivity for business and social uses.

Another project 'I-Sat Connection' is being led by UK based Inmarsat along with its international partners Equity Bank Group, Kenya and Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). The project aim is "realizing the critical role of mobile satellite in the creation of inclusive digital economies"; this will see the companies use their mobile satellite capabilities to deliver tangible economic value from the UK to accelerate economic growth in Africa. As well as their primary use, the projects will also be used to enhance local economies by providing broadband Internet access to local communities with all the associated benefits this will bring. The Satellite Applications Catapult will be working alongside Inmarsat, connecting UK applications experts to these remote users in order to provide information services designed to grow and enhance these emerging markets. Through this overarching research framework, Inmarsat and the Satellite Applications Catapult, will significantly advance the knowledge base for delivery of successful satellite-enabled services in developing and emerging markets.

Kenya and Nigeria may not be the most connected African countries but widespread availability of Internet connectivity has allowed the economies to grow faster than those of other African countries. It's just matter of time before African nations will be as connected as the developed nations, not necessarily using fibre but also with the help of wireless, mobile and satellites.


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