Driving Business And Economic Development In Africa Through Innovative Satellite-Based Connectivity

SES’s next-generation O3b mPOWER satellite communications system to launch in 2021

By Carole Kamaitha, SES Networks Vice President Sales, Africa

Over 30% of the African population live in landlocked countries, many in remote rural areas. Millions of Africans therefore experience significant challenges with access to reliable connectivity every day. According to Northern Sky Research (NSR) countries in sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly connected to the mobile internet. However, in 2019, there were 520 million people that did not use mobile internet and another 270 million who did not live within the footprint of a mobile network. Simply put, better solutions are needed as the number of connected devices and demand for bandwidth-intensive applications continue to soar across the continent.

In response to the ever-present digital divide in not only Africa, but the world, SES, the leader in global content connectivity solutions, has developed O3b mPOWER – a revolutionary non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellite-enabled communications system operating 8,000km away from earth. Due to launch in Q4 of 2021, O3b mPOWER will boost connectivity across the region by delivering connectivity services ranging from 50Mbps to multiple gigabits per second. The increase in bandwidth ensures that the needs of advancements in ICT programmes are met and will boost the competitiveness of African economies.

O3b mPOWER is based on the success of SES’s current O3b fleet of MEO satellites, which provide fibre-like bandwidth – it is the only successful constellation delivering connectivity services today. The lower altitude of the MEO fleet of satellites reduces latency, decreases response times, improves voice and video quality as well as enables an array of cloud services. The unique combination of low latency and high bandwidth enables customers to implement applications they previously could not, particularly in remote areas.

SES delivers connectivity services – both directly and indirectly – to telco operators, service providers, enterprises, energy customers, aero service providers, cruise companies, airlines, humanitarian organisations as well as government and institutions across the globe. SES has been present in Africa for more than 20 years working to actively raise the quality of life for Africans. It is currently the only satellite operator to operate both GEO (Geostationary) and MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) satellite constellations, serving Africa specifically with more than 10 GEO satellites and 20 O3b MEO satellites. Furthermore, SES has a strong African footprint with offices in Accra, Lagos and Addis Ababa and is actively delivering its services through its partners across the continent.

Up till now, SES’s O3b satellites have enabled its African customers’ customers to revolutionise their mining operations (Ivanhoe Copper mine in DRC), improve telemedicine networks, e-education and more in partnership with the Burkina Faso Government. While end users in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR) have been able to enjoy 3G and even 4G services in remote parts of Africa through partners like Gilat Telecom, Orange and Vodacom. Additionally, SES provides O3b capacity in many African countries through Mobile Network Operator (MNO) Airtel.

First O3b mPOWER customer in Africa

The O3b mPOWER communications system is far more powerful than the current O3b system. It has exponentially more capacity and offers unprecedented flexibility and reach, making it possible to optimise a network’s ability to scale to cloud. The constellation will comprise of 11 high-throughput, low-latency satellites as well as extensive ground infrastructure. Like the current O3b MEO system, it will orbit 8 000 km from Earth and can deliver bandwidth when and where it is needed, in real-time, using the flexibility of the system and the software-based architecture that is inherent in O3b mPOWER.

In short, O3b mPOWER will enable partners to offer high broadband and seamless, reliable connectivity, while extending geographical reach. In Africa, the O3b mPOWER communications system can support a variety of customers’ requirements ranging from telco’s and MNO’s to smart mining, defense/security, e-learning and e-health.

SES’s revolutionary next-generation terabit-scale communications system will support a massive increase in the backhaul capacity for 4G and 5G deployments and enterprise applications. It will allow for digital transformation, rapid cloud adoption and e-banking services; and more importantly will work towards tangibly bridging the digital divide.

Little wonder why Orange CAR is O3b mPOWER’s first African market customer to sign up. Orange will exponentially ramp up its consumer and business services in CAR with SES’s revolutionary O3b mPOWER satellite communications system, offering high broadband and seamless connectivity, while extending geographical reach.

Satellite communications is part of everyday life and has enormous benefits including reaching otherwise unreachable, underserved rural communities.