More satellite investments on Africa’s horizon

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 23 Nov 2022
From left: Orange Cameroon’s Abdallah Nassar, Nigerian Communication Satellite’s Dr Abimbola Alale, Giga’s Sophia Farrar, and iSAT Africa’s Rakesh Kukreja.
From left: Orange Cameroon’s Abdallah Nassar, Nigerian Communication Satellite’s Dr Abimbola Alale, Giga’s Sophia Farrar, and iSAT Africa’s Rakesh Kukreja.

Africa’s space economy is growing, with research predictions showing 23 African countries will have about 125 satellites in orbit by 2025.

Currently, 13 African nations are said to have satellites in space.

This is was the word from Dr Abimbola Alale, MD and CEO of Nigerian Communication Satellite, speaking at the recent Africa Tech Festival 2022.

Alale was part of a high-level panel discussion at the conference, who shared insights on the topic: “Satellite redefined – Africa is forging its own path into space”.

For Alale, the anticipated growth is an indication of technological advancements and reduced barriers to entry. “With satellite, you can have multiple small satellites in space now, so everybody wants to go to space.

“The African space economy is increasing and Nigeria will be among the 23 African countries because it will launch another satellite in space.”

According to Alale, the African space economy was valued at about $19.4 billion as at the end of 2021. “This is about a 4% contribution to the global space economy, which is about $469 billion, as of end-2021.”

Due to the anticipated growth and reduced barrier to entry into space, it is predicted the continent’s space economy will increase to $23 billion by 2025, she added.

“This shows that a lot of African countries budget provisions to make sure they are in space, whether it is in research, communications, navigation, or climate.

“As a result of the global effects on the general well-being of human beings, I think African nations have taken very keen interest in space. For example, South Africa has the biggest space weather station in Africa.

“Therefore, other African nations are also following suit and investing in satellites, albeit for different reasons. I believe all of these factors are encouraging growth of the African space economy.”

Connecting the unconnected

Providing connectivity to the 2.9 billion people – an estimated 37% of the world’s population – who remain unconnected, will require innovative ideas and a mix of technologies.

Key among these technologies is satellite communications, which analysts agree has the potential to bring connectivity to the remote, rural parts of the African continent.

Speaking about his company’s experience with satellite, Rakesh Kukreja, MD of iSAT Africa, commented: “When we started using satellite to bring the internet on the continent, in 2009, satellite was the only option to connect most of the countries in Africa to the internet.”

Alale added: “If we are to achieve our broadband access goals, we need satellite to complement other connectivity solutions that are already available.”

Sophia Farrar, lead partner at Giga, concurred with the panellists, saying her organisation is using satellite to advance school connectivity.

Giga is a global initiative of UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union that aims to connect every school to the internet by 2030.

Farrar indicated satellites are important to fill the information gaps in school locations, and have the potential to provide connectivity to schools in rural communities, for example.

“We trained an AI algorithm to identify what a school looks like, based on buildings, football pitches or other key signature indications of what a school might be. This is an approach we’ve used in nine countries, to date, and we are developing a global algorithm to fill that information gap going forward, so satellites are very important for our work.”

She further stated there are many schools on the continent that don’t have any connectivity infrastructure options other than satellite. However, the challenge oftentimes is that the satellite solutions are inadequate.

“In Sierra Leone, we put out a procurement to connect 120 schools. The ones that needed to be connected via satellite – we were quoted that it would take $20 000 annually to keep one school connected for 20Mbps.

“That’s just not possible for a school that might not even have access to water. When we talk about satellite, we recognise that something needs to change if we’re actually going to connect these rural communities.”

Farrar concluded by urging satellite communication providers to make pricing more affordable, to provide essential connectivity to the unconnected.