14/07/202115 Minutes

Connecting Africa: Overcoming Barriers Via Satellite

A webinar which brings together a highly innovative leading satellite operator, a satellite service provider operating across Africa, and one of the same continent’s leading MNOs, you’re guaranteed a great discussion. In Connecting Africa: Overcoming Barriers via Satellite, a highly engaged audience added to the weight of Q&A discussion, moderated by David Meltzer of GVF, with many questions, notably sent by attendees joining from various African countries.

The dialogue between senior executive leaders from SES, Gilat Telecom, and MTN Group explored the various barriers in Africa to connectivity that exist today and how satellites are a cost-effective way to overcome these barriers. Asking, “What do telcos and MNOs all have in common?” Well, what they share is exponential growth in their need for access to, analysis and management of, vast volumes of data. This growth is dependent on constant and ubiquitous high-performance connectivity. But moving massive volumes of data within Africa and to regions outside of Africa can often be costly, difficult, and unsustainable. The solution – flexible, high-bandwidth, low-latency, cloud-optimised seamless global networking based on satellite connectivity.

Initially exploring the story of satellite backhaul around the African continent and how this story is being affected by introduction of greater capability in the non-GEO satellite environment such as MEO, the discussion went on to examine what exactly is driving the exponential growth in the need of telcos and MNOs for access to, analysis and management of, vast volumes of data.

Additional moderator questions addressed:

  • The expansion of network access often presents challenges to telcos and MNOs. Given that fibre or microwave have limitations in deployment feasibility, and the significant barriers to advancing network growth and connectivity in Africa, what more effective alternatives are there?
  • Much is made of undersea fibre serving Africa. Despite this infrastructure, cable cannot meet all the connectivity needs of the telcos and MNOs throughout Africa’s nations. What are the requirements that only satellite can serve?
  • Coverage ubiquity is a well-established facet of GEO satellite. Non-GEO satellites, such as systems in MEO, add much reduced latency and more capacity to this ubiquity. Also, high-throughput satellites and other advances in the space and ground segments have slashed bandwidth costs and significantly increased capacity. How important is this for telcos and MNOs?
  • How do telcos and MNOs evaluate the role of satellite in present day cellular/mobile network deployments, and how has this evaluation has changed over time, particularly with reference to network planning strategies for covering rural areas?

If you missed this panel’s exploration of the various barriers to connectivity that exist in Africa today and how satellites are a cost-effective solution, you can watch the free-of-charge video on-demand right here. Also, you will see below on this page our panellists’ written answers to the many audience questions we just didn’t have time for when live.

Q & A continued….

The following question was posed through the chat function during the panel but we ran out of time to respond in the live programme. Thank you to our audience for taking an active part by asking questions, and to our panellists for their time to answer them after the webinar ended… (Please note more questions and answers may appear here as we receive them from the panellists)


1. Hi, I am Badara from Senegal, it seems operators CTO are still not convinced of the potential of VSAT Backhaul. What is the main issue to have the VSAT Backhaul adopted in Africa?

Stewart Sanders (SES): Satellites had been traditionally perceived as a costly backhaul alternative, as the cost of the bandwidth capacity and management of the satellite backhaul network often resulted in a higher Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) & lower ROI compared to other terrestrial alternatives (MW, Fiber, Copper). This has limited the satellite backhaul often to only those sites where the terrestrial backhaul is prohibitively expensive (No fiber, LoS constraints for MW) and where MNOs need to deploy sites to meet their USO obligations. The satellite inherent latency delays and throughput (Mbps/site) constraints have also created concerns of whether 4G/5G Performance cannot be met with Satellite Backhaul. The Power cost (in case of lack of access to electrical grid), site security, site maintenance costs etc have also been some other challenges for MNOs to deploy sites in rural/remote regions in general

However, the perception of satellite as a costly solution is now changing with the technology push and with innovative business models & solutions that the industry is embracing. The industry has been pushing for a substantially more cost effective, powerful, and flexible space and ground infrastructure.

  • For example, efforts like Standardization, GEO/MEO High throughput low cost/bit systems, Reusable launch vehicles, enhanced flexibility through digital processing/beam forming, SDWAN etc have significantly improved the high throughput capacity costs dynamics
  • New commercial models & Lower TCO solutions: PAYG, Revenue share, OpEx based managed service models, Network sharing
  • Lower cost & higher efficiency (Bits/Hz) terminals & modems. Hybrid powered BTS sites for rural deployments

Our MEO capabilities match market demand (multi Gbps links, lower latency, flexibility and scalability, Incountry GWs) and will therefore be the key technology enabling backhaul & trunking in the future in Africa. We also see an increase in the commercially driven network expansion deals beyond USO-type projects. SES has enabled both commercially driven and USO driven lower TCO GEO/MEO backhaul deployments in Africa. Our regional and global telco customers are operating in multiple African country markets and serving mobile subscribers and global enterprises (Orange, MTN, Vodacom, Millicom, Airtel, Moov).


2. We’re hearing from our clients that they want to deploy applications that are increasingly sensitive to latency. This is driving them to wait until LEO services are available with their claim of round-trip latency of less than 40mSecs. Have SES carried out any MEO trials with such clients to determine whether their latency concerns are real, and if so, what was the outcome?

Stewart Sanders (SES): SES, MEO constellation has already been providing services to real time CRMs, and migration to Cloud based application for some Data centres linked to latency and real time applications critical missions for multiple critical missions that are latency sensitive, our latency is extremely comparable to Fiber and thus it is providing all kind of real time latency requirement to the need for our customers globally.


3. Hi, I am representing Aviation Industry and would like to know about solutions provided for Air Ground communication in Africa region (if any).

Stewart Sanders (SES):We have some system integrators using our Space-Segment capacity over our GEO satellite providing all types of Flight controllers & communications for voice, radar, and messaging traffic between ATC sites. The customer reference we can disclose is https://gaca.gov.sa/web/en-gb/page/home; however, this was not delivered by SES as an end-to-end integration rather, our customer used SES assets while a systems integrator was responsible for the full solution.


4. How effective is PTT radio over satellite?

Stewart Sanders (SES): Over time, numerous vendors have implemented proprietary technologies to enable PTT radio communication over satellite links, both on GEO and NGSO orbits. The service provided is as effective as the traditional terrestrial version.


5. Can you mention the main differences between LEO and mPOWER? Will services like Starlink, which have big contention, be adequate for Enterprises and Telecoms?

Stewart Sanders (SES): The simplest difference between O3b mPOWER and LEO systems is first, the orbit. The O3b mPOWER satellites will be launched into medium Earth orbit (MEO), about 8,000km above the Earth’s surface. LEO stands for low Earth orbit, and as implied by the name, are closer to earth at about 550km high.

Both LEO and MEO are considered non-geosynchronous (NGSO) orbits because the satellites orbit the Earth at a different velocity than the Earth’s rotation, so the satellites move across the sky, with respect to a spot on the Earth’s surface. Both MEO and LEO offer advantages over traditional geosynchronous (GEO) satellites; by being closer to the Earth, MEO and LEO satellites achieve lower latency (because the signal has less distance to travel), and better signal-to-noise ratios, to achieve high throughput.

LEO satellites will need to be smaller than their counterparts in MEO and GEO, and therefore, will not be able to offer as much total throughput. In early tests, we have been able to achieve 8Gbps of throughput via O3b mPOWER’s technology, while LEO satellites will likely achieve less than 1Gbps. Not only that, but the question correctly implied that LEO satellites will also offer contended services. When multiple LEO terminals are located near each other, they will be required to share the available throughput. That means even commercial builds, like mobile towers and data centres, may share throughput with nearby households using the same LEO system.

O3b mPOWER’s throughput will be uncontended – if you contract for 2Gbps, we will ensure that your terminal receives 2Gbps. If a customer does prefer contention amongst their own sites, for example to allow two sites to dynamically share a single pool of capacity that is allocated based on user demand, that will be possible. But unlike LEO systems, O3b mPOWER will not necessitate unpredictable contention unless specifically requested and customized by the customer.


6. Would there be benefits in multicasting content over satellite to CDN and further decreasing network congestion?

Stewart Sanders (SES): Yes. The benefits are to push content over satellite to CDN gateways for reducing network congestion where there are network related issues. One of the goals of delivery via a CDN is meant for network offloading, taking from pressure of the terrestrial network, freeing that capacity for data. It’s meant not only for rural places, but also urban places where terrestrial networks are already congested.


7. Does SES provide Voice communications applications for Air Traffic Control as a standby means to VHF and HF communications?

Stewart Sanders (SES): For Civilian ATC networks the Air-To-Ground communication is very unique in terms of operations following certain standards and been defined by ICAO governing the standards of the ATC and other applications. As Aircraft move from one airspace zone or sector to another, the transfer must be clearly communicated and seamless from sources such as radar systems, user voice communication systems, and numerous applications (e.g., messaging between ATC sites). Therefore, for such seamless communication systems, the satellite is playing an excellent role in providing Nation or Continent Wide Foot-Print of coverage where the network will be divided into multiple sectors with multiple redundancies. Thus; we cannot do like-to-like ATC replacement for VHF and HF communications with direct communication between the Aircraft and satellite back to the ATC main control center. However, if the Aircraft already has IFC system that can access any sort of Internet or data communication a VoIP service could be an alternative backup.

Contact [email protected] if you would like to discuss it further.