Closing the connectivity divide

To resolve the digital divide, we first have to close the connectivity divide and reach the ultimate goal of achieving “everywhere always on for everyone”. However, this might be easier said than done and while satellite services are absolutely critical in driving this agenda, there are some fundamental outstanding items that need attention.

Johannesburg, 29 Oct 2021
Dr Dawie de Wet.
Dr Dawie de Wet.

Future connectivity divide scenarios

A recent McKinsey report provides valuable insight into possible future connectivity scenarios in different countries and different markets. Somewhat surprisingly, the outcome is not a ready closure of the connectivity divide – rather the exact opposite. Their research suggests that while 80% of the world’s population could have advanced coverage in 10 years, just one-quarter will enjoy access to networks delivering the highest speeds and lowest latency via cutting-edge technologies.

McKinsey estimates it would cost $700 billion to $900 billion to bring true high band 5G connectivity to countries 25% of the global population. Based on this scenario, they predict that around half of all subscribers in countries such as Japan, South Korea and the United States as well as China could have such coverage by 2030, compared with only 5% to 15% in the rest of the world. 

The key message in this analysis is that connectivity for all is, and will be for the foreseeable future, a global technology and industry challenge.

A collected approach

Today, the industry developments designed to address the connectivity divide span the full technology spectrum with innovation and breakthroughs happening in all fields including fibre, 5G, fixed mobile, microwave, TV-whitespace and satellite. For example, the recent regulatory approval of the TV-whitespace frequency spectrum in South Africa will enable broadband deployments for high-density semi-urban population areas with better economies of scale than the 5G needed to drive WiFi access on street level.

In the same way fibre-to-the-home investments continue, 5G roll-outs where possible, fixed wireless networks for regional municipalities as well as adding satellite broadband services are also progressing. In particular, satellite services which are operated on the new global platforms such as the Intelsat Flex platform are increasingly meeting the needs of pro-sumers (professional consumers), businesses and enterprises.

Each technology has an intrinsic and fundamental value proposition and the one can’t simply replace the other. Fibre services are ideal for well-developed and structured environments with defined market demand tied to fixed geographical locations. It is perfect for providing high-capacity demand at street level to fixed premises for consumer, business and enterprise. LTE, 3G and, to some extent, 5G is the platform of choice for mobility services linked to convenience and connectivity for individuals rather than households.

In the same way, current and planned broadband satellite services have specific advantages to service subscribers in low density areas, consumers in newly developed regions as well as areas which are “off-grid” and not connected, or poorly connected, by any other telco option.

Moving the satellite horizons

Add to this the recent phenomenal developments in the satellite industry, and the case for satellite as a connectivity solution becomes stronger and stronger. It should be noted that these developments span all constellations, including GEO, MEO and LEO and is not merely limited to emerging LEO scenarios.

For example, the next-generation SES O3B mPower (as outlined in a recent The Fast Mode article) will be fully operational by 2022. O3b mPOWER is built on proven technology and will be the industry’s first proven NGSO system. Once operational, it will deliver superior performance and unprecedented flexibility, allowing network operators to grow and adapt to ever-changing network requirements and thrive in future landscapes.

Also Intelsat’s global Flex platform, initially developed for the aviation and maritime markets, is now offering new price and performance points for the development off the fixed broadband sector. One example is the Twoobii-on-Flex service provided over southern Africa by Q-KON Africa. Twoobii leverages the Flex global platform advantages to meet broadband cost and performance targets as well as adding advanced network technology to enable a full smart satellite services offering.

Smart satellite services

To unlock a wider market footprint for satellite services and in particular, be successful in meeting business and enterprise cloud connectivity needs, it is important that satellite service be extended to the domain of smart satellite services.

In this context, smart satellite services includes IP-network features such as layer-2-over-satellite, VLAN routing implementation, very advanced quality of service toolsets, seamless integration with SD-WAN architectures, content-aware management and flexible billing models as a function of time, content and usage such as pay-per-use and on-demand. All these feature sets are required, and make it possible, for broadband platforms such as Twoobii-on-Flex to be seamlessly integrated with access networks for ease of deployment by business and enterprise.

Moving past the myths

These advances are also fundamental to move past the old satellite myths – ie, that satellite is slow, expensive and has a latency problem. With broadband service profiles possible at 40Mbps/10Mbps and cost points comparative to LTE and 3G, the Twoobii platform offers quantified value and business case benefits.

Although Twoobii is based on a GEO service and still incorporates the 550msec RTT (round-trip time), the smart satellite feature set incorporated into this platform mitigates any user disadvantages. Real-time video, video surveillance, voice and streaming are all applications that can effortlessly be delivered over smart satellite platforms.


According to a McKinsey report, closing the connectivity divide is going to take some time, despite the many technology options that are available. The good news is that satellite services are evolving at a rapid rate and that the new LEO and MEO constellations, as well as innovations on existing GEO fleets such as the Intelsat Flex platform, will all drive and contribute to this goal.

The key is to realise the specific advantages of the different technology options, ie, fibre, LTE, 5G, wireless and satellite as applicable to different connectivity needs. To really appreciate these different technologies, they should not be compared on an apples-for-apples basis, but rather be evaluated for the specific benefits they offer in different connectivity requirement scenarios. Smart satellite services such as Twoobii-on-Flex offer quantified benefits for specific niche requirements in the ongoing effort to solve the connecting-all business case.

Article supplied by:

Dr Dawie de Wet (Pr. Eng. M.Sc. Eng.) – Group CEO of Q-KON and Chief Engineer for Twoobii, a southern African supported satellite broadband service. With over 30 years’ experience in designing, engineering, developing and implementing wireless, microwave and satellite communication systems in Africa, De Wet is focused on developing telco solutions that integrate user requirements, emerging markets and leading technology.


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