Satellite communications will play a significant role in Africa’s future connectivity architecture, says Juanita Clark, CEO of Digital Council Africa.
Speaking during an ITWeb On The Road video interview, recorded at the ITWeb Cloud and Data Centre Summit 2023, Clark outlined the Digital Council Africa's goals for the continent, including policy directions, policy development and how it is assisting governments in this regard.
She described how Africa is undergoing a rapid digital transition, which is driving more demand for connectivity.
Clark emphasised the need for satellite communication to close the connectivity gap, particularly in underserved areas. She highlighted the importance of data centres in managing Africa's expanding data demand and pushed for infrastructure sharing to achieve economies of scale.
“I think a lot of the problems that we face as sector is that we want to put connectivity into boxes. So, we look at either mobile technology as the single saviour of the continent, or we talk about how to achieve ubiquitous fibre connectivity. But there's a space for all connectivity methodologies to co-exist.
“There's not going to be one single technology that's going to solve all of Africa's problems,” she said.
“Satellite has a place to play. There's some significant movements happening in the space. The prices have come down, the speeds have gone up. So it's become a real contender. And it certainly has a very important place in connectivity architecture going forward.”
According to Clark, individuals in rural areas cannot be left out of the connectivity journey, and satellite is the best option for connecting them.
"Fibre deployment to rural settlements is very expensive, hence it is not viable. Furthermore, it’s costly to build cellular masts to service smaller rural settlements. But satellite has a significant role to play."
Globally, the satellite services business is expanding and rapidly developing, causing African leaders and telcos to band together, agreeing to use technology to drive the digital transformation agenda, improve connectivity and promote the digital economy.
In South Africa, the portfolio committee on communications has been informed that the country's satellite will be launched by Sentech, the state signal distributor, in collaboration with the South African National Space Agency.
MTN Group, Africa's largest mobile phone network operator, has also commented on the issue, as it looks to space technology to guarantee continuous connectivity in its markets.
There has also been the launch of services by Starlink across the continent, already available in key markets such as Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, Mozambique and Mauritius. However, plans for such services in South Africa have yet to be announced.
Clark also spoke about the role of and opportunities presented by data centres. “We're predicting there's going to be a massive increase in edge data centres. So, there's a tremendous amount of opportunities: financial opportunities, and the opportunity to create jobs, which is desperately needed on our continent.”
Access to the appropriate skills will also be vital, she said. “It’s so critically important that we develop the skills base to support and carry the momentum of this development forward.”