Welcome

Welcome to the Com World Series Blog. As producers of the leading telecoms, media and ICT events for developing markets, we focus on news & views that affect everyone operating in the telecoms ecosystem in Africa, the Middle East and Eurasia.

20 Apr 2015

“Allowing our customers to use data is key for future growth and customer satisfaction” interview of Asif Aziz, Expresso Telecom Group


Asif Aziz is Group Marketing Director at Expresso Telecom Group, where he is responsible for development and delivery of group products and propositions roadmap as well as delivering innovation to allow each operating company to achieve growth targets. He will be joining a keynote panel discussion on monetising data services at Connecting West Africa in Dakar in June. We ask him his views on the market ahead of his participation.

What is Expresso Telecom’s position in West Africa’s market?
Expresso is a very proud African brand for African people.  We see West Africa with all its potential as the central pivot of our strategy and efforts.  We are currently within Guinea Conakry, Senegal and Mauritania with a blend of GSM and CDMA operations.

What services will enable telecom operators to generate revenue from data?
Allowing our customers to use data is key for future growth and customer satisfaction.  Today many of the applications our customers are using are more functional (to provide entertainment, news or communication).  However future services will be integrated and part of our lives, such as mHealth in the consumer environment and Machine to Machine services.

Are we at a key time for digital development?
Whilst this is a growth period a number of key factors need to be in place to start us on the digital development.  Firstly the abundance of smart devices, followed by availability of the networks and finally development in the digital area that enhances customers’ lives, such as mCommerce, mhealth, mEntertainment, mEducation and so on.  I believe all players in this ecosystem need to collaborate to deliver customer value.

What will be the impact of the digital transition on the telecoms and media sector?

The impact will be one liberalisation and democratisation of services.  Customers will be able to freely enjoy and enhance their lives – there are considerable learnings from other advanced markets.

What are the communications needs of enterprise and how to meet them effectively to sustain economic growth in the region?

The enterprise sector is key to future development – allowing business customers to start making their work force more efficient is key to driving global GDP through their increased productivity.  Businesses need to be in touch, a missed call or message is the difference between their profitability and loss.  They are dependent on mobile operators and we need to be their trusted partner.  Increasing m2m and data services will become more prevalent.

How can telecom operators encourage services innovation?
A new model of collaboration and working with the whole value chain and ecosytem is emerging.  Mobile Operators are good at certain elements and should work with external partners to harness their talents and deliver innovation.

In your opinion what are the most interesting debates to expect at Connecting West Africa this year?
1)      Serving and growing the Business community
2)      Improving customer experience and satisfaction through quality.



Asif Aziz’s contribution to the debate on monetising data will take place on the second day of Connecting West Africa, Wednesday 10th June, in a panel discussion with Mamadou Goundiam (Sales and Business Development Director, Africa, Millicom), Pape Alassane Niang (Director of Broadband Marketing, Sonatel) and Evans Yeboah (CEO, DiscoverytelGhana). . For more information on the programme and how to attend click here.

Pour lire l'interview complète en Français, cliquez ici


15 Apr 2015

Why 2015 is a pivotal year in West Africa’s digital market: Interview of Maxwell Dodd, Airtel Ghana

Pour lire l'article en français, voyez en bas de page

Airtel is Ghana’s 4th mobile operator in terms of customer market share, and the 3rdin terms of revenues. Maxwell Dodd has been Director of BusinessSolutions at Airtel Ghana for the past two years, where he is responsible for developing end-to-end communication and technology solutions to the Corporate, SME and Global markets. He shares his thoughts on the market ahead of his participation to Connecting West Africa in Dakar, Senegal in June.


Maxwell says 2015 is a pivotal year for the region's digital development: “the proliferation of smartphones within the market coupled with over 100% teledensity within a market of five GSM operators clearly shows that voice is saturated”, he says. New opportunities must be explored: “ Big data is yet to be harnessed with operators working on launching innovative data-driven solutions such as M2M and video as a service to take advantage of the opportunity”.

With regards to the impact of the digital transition on the telecoms and media sector, he says: “Digital transmission is driving changes in consumer behavior whereas increasingly connected devices are driving demand for high-speed connectivity and ever-greater data consumption”. This has an undoubted impact on operators’ models, as it “not only puts pressure on infrastructure capacity, it challenges the sustainability of current pricing models such as unlimited data packages”.  According to him, “this trend will impact convergence within the telecom ecosystem (connectivity, services, devices, content, etc.) and will drive growth within the digital media, significantly leading to new forms of digital media and content”.

As for the enterprise market, which is his area of  responsibility,  communication needs are wide ranging: fixed voice, mobile voice, mobile data, fixed data  (dedicated internet, leased lines, ISDN), Managed and hosted services  (Audio conferencing, video conferencing, Bulk SMS, Corporate Ring back tone, Virtual Pbx, IP Telephony).

Operators need to be innovative in order to launch attractive services, which Maxwell believes is happening, as “telecom operators are undertaking strategic partnerships with OTT players to launch innovative services such as cloud services (E mail and domain hosting, file sharing), data center services, antivirus, video surveillance, video as a service, fleet and asset tracking solutions and mobile satellite services”.

Asked what he thinks are the most interesting debates to expect at Connecting West Africa this year, Maxwell concludes:  “The debate to expect this year is how operators will evolve to take advantage of the era of big data by launching innovative solutions and services in 2016”.

Maxwell Dodd will give a presentation on serving the growing enterprise market in West Africa, sharing his experience at Airtel Business in Ghana. For more information on Connecting West Africa click here.

 
 
 
 
Pourquoi 2015 est une année charnière dans le marché numérique de l'Afrique de l'Ouest: Interview de Maxwell Dodd, Airtel Ghana
Airtel est le 4ème opérateur mobile du Ghana en termes de parts de marché, et le 3ème en termes de revenus. Maxwell Dodd est Directeur des Solutions Business chez Airtel Ghana depuis deux ans, où il est responsable du développement des solutions de communication et de technologie aux entreprise, PME et marchés internationaux. Il partage ses idées sur le marché avant sa participation à Connecter l'Afrique de l'Ouest à Dakar, Sénégal, en juin.

Maxwell dit que 2015 est une année charnière pour le développement numérique dans la région: «la prolifération des smartphones sur le marché associée à plus de 100% de télédensité dans un marché de cinq opérateurs GSM montre clairement que le segment de la voix est saturé", dit-il. De nouvelles possibilités doivent être explorées: "Le big data doit encore être exploité et les opérateurs travaillent sur le lancement de solutions pilotées par les données innovantes telles que le M2M et la vidéo".

En ce qui concerne l'impact de la transition numérique sur le secteur des télécommunications et des médias, il dit: «La transmission numérique entraîne des changements de comportement des consommateurs tandis que les terminaux de plus en plus connectés stimulent la demande de connectivité haute vitesse et une consommation de données grandissante". Cela a un impact incontestable sur les modèles des opérateurs, car cela "ne met pas seulement pression sur la capacité de l'infrastructure, cela remet en question la viabilité des modèles actuels de tarification, tels que les offres de données illimitées". Selon lui, "cette tendance aura un impact sur la convergence dans l'écosystème des télécommunications (connectivité, services, terminaux, contenu, etc.) et stimulera la croissance dans les médias numériques, conduisant de manière significative à de nouvelles formes de médias et de contenu numériques ".

Dans le secteur de l'entreprise, qui est sa domaine de responsabilité, les besoins en matière de communication sont très variés: la voix fixe, la téléphonie mobile, les données mobiles, les données fixes (internet, ISDN), services gérés et hébergés (audioconférence, vidéoconférence , SMS, ringback tone d’entreprise, PBX virtuel, téléphonie IP).

Les opérateurs doivent faire preuve d'innovation afin de lancer des services attrayants, et Maxwell est convaincu qu’ils le font, car "les opérateurs de télécommunications ont entrepris des partenariats stratégiques avec des acteurs OTT pour lancer des services innovants tels que les services de cloud computing (e-mail et hébergement de domaine, partage de fichiers), services de data centres, antivirus, surveillance vidéo, la vidéo comme un service, solutions de tracking et services mobiles par satellite ".

Interrogé sur les débats qui seront les plus intéressants à Connecter l'Afrique de l'Ouest cette année, Maxwell conclut: "Le débat cette année est de savoir comment les opérateurs vont évoluer pour tirer parti de l'ère du big data en lançant des solutions et des services innovants en 2016".

Maxwell Dodd fera une présentation sur comment desservir le marché des entreprises en Afrique, en partageant son expérience à Airtel Business au Ghana. Pour plus d'informations sur la connexion Afrique de l'Ouest cliquez ici.

13 Apr 2015

Africa: Mobile Money for ‘Agropreneurs’












Written by: Anne Agbakoba, Chief Research Officer, NUMERIS

 

In Bill and Melinda Gates’ annual letter for 2015 titled “Our bet for the future”, Mr. Gates says: “once [mobile money] gets going, then there will be competitive innovation in offerings like special savings or credit plans related to farming.”


Mr. Gates is on the money. Agriculture and provides livelihood for 70% of the world’s poor, and for many developing countries, it is the most significant sector in rural areas. However, while agriculture plays a major role in Africa’s economies, a longtime, nagging question has been how best to deal with the numerous cash transactions that take place throughout the farm-to-fork value chain. Simply put: ‘how do large agriculture buyers and rural smallholder farmers transact with each other in such a way that dealings between both parties are cost-effective, transparent, and fraud-free?”

The answer lies in mobile money.

Simple, convenient, affordable – and disarmingly disruptive - mobile phone technologies are presenting smallholder farmers in Africa with unprecedented opportunities to run their operations more productively. Originally referred to as mobile money, this extremely young and fast moving industry is most recently being tagged as digital finance.

Digital finance in the agriculture value chain

A practical example would be the FADAMA (Hausa tribe name for ‘irrigable land’) project in Nigeria. Supported by the World Bank, the objective of FADAMA is to move rice farmers from subsistence farming into a profitable business venture.

The 2015 project focuses on support to value chains of cassava, rice, sorghum and horticulture in six states (Kogi, Niger, Kano, Lagos, Anambra and Enugu), which will become hubs of Staple Crops Processing Zones (SCPZs). States surrounding these six locations have been designed to serve as catchment areas to feed the processing zones.

Here’s the big deal: an alignment between smallholder farmers in the mentioned states, large agriculture buyers, and mobile money service providers presents a winning business model. Putting a mobile finance structure in place will easily (and profitably) serve the financial needs of all three parties, and it plays out like this:
  1. Smallholder farmers will be able to sell their harvest without any cash exchanging hands, thanks to using a mobile wallet. The old-fashioned option of hauling around large amounts of cash will be erased, and farmers begin to enjoy greater security and the reduced cost of cash handling. A mobile wallet would also serve the secondary purpose of providing the farmers with a piece of formal identification, paving way for further financial inclusion.
  2. For large commodity buyers, mobile money would instantly cut-away the huge cost of administering cash payments to hundreds and/ or thousands of farmers. Benefits and savings would be achieved across board with regards to record-keeping, incidences of fraud, security of personnel, and transaction fees.
  3. Last but not least, mobile money service providers will have keyed into a new (and predictably loyal) target market. The result is the registration of new users, and an increase the annual revenue per user (ARPU). A first-mover advantage is there for the taking!
The increase in mobile money services in Africa has clearly been fueled by the rapid adoption of mobile phones on the continent. And there is no reason why mobile finance cannot transform agropreneurship, much in the same way that commercial banking enhanced the Industrial Revolution.

Numeris Media are an official media partner of East AfricaCom which will be taking place in Nairobi, Kenya this 6-7th May. For more information, or to register, visit: http://eaafrica.comworldseries.com/

7 Apr 2015

CTIC to host the Innovation Forum at Connecting West Africa





CTIC Dakar is pleased to be a partner of Connecting West Africa and to highlight young Senegalese innovative start-ups. The Innovation Forum is a crossroads of exchanges and sharing of experiences for the West African technology scene. The session will consist of an interactive panel discussion moderated by CTIC’s  General Manager Regina Mbodj, with contributions from entrepreneurs and operators. It will be followed by the ‘Idea Generator’, a series of roundtables to discuss different aspects of the tech innovation various aspects of innovation in tech and digital services.



CTIC Dakar was launched in April 2011 from a public-private partnership of ICT Incubator Foundation of Senegal and the Organization of ICT professionals with the desire to grow technology SMEs in Senegal and make it the West African hub headed by the Private sector. CTIC Management board notably include government bodies, local IT entrepreneurs and telecom operator Orange.

In Senegal , as in other African countries, such an incubator upstart may not claim to support the growth of ICT SMEs without working also for structuring an enabling environment for ICT , innovation and business. In this sense, CTIC has organized or co-organized in 2013 over 20 events, meetings or workshops. In addition to connecting entrepreneurs, these events achieve three specific objectives: to detect talent, to promote access to markets, and to facilitate access to finance.

CTIC offers two programmes
  • Incubation on a 3 years period, which concerned businesses already in operation and achieving a minimum income. The program gives them a business development service that allows them to quickly  increase their turnover and develop innovative services with high value
  • Acceleration, a 6-month program designed for project developers; the goal is to find their business model and gain their first customer. The sessions also focus on the project manager to help them consolidate and develop others skills.

At this time, CTIC Dakar has coached nearly 58 companies , over 1,000 entrepreneurs but also promote the export of our expertise in others countries. The incubator currently counts 29 enterprises in the different programmes (acceleration programme : 6 - FDSUT 8 - Osiwa 6 – incubation programme : 9). 

Connecting West Africa will be taking place this 9-10th June in Dakar, Senegal - for more information and to register, visit: http://westafrica.comworldseries.com/ 

1 Apr 2015

“Adapt and innovate or simply close shop” Interview of K-NET’s Dayo Abiodun for Connecting West Africa



Dayo Abiodun is Director, International Business Development at K-NET a Ghana-based provider of telecommunication solutions for businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa, providing data and internet services in several West African countries.

Ahead of his participation to Connecting WestAfrica in Senegal on 9-10 June, we ask him a few question on the market.

What makes K-NET a unique player in Ghana’s market? “K-NET is the only company in Ghana that has built its own one stop network infrastructure integrating several platforms into a single centrally controlled network” he says. “ K-NET has its own teleport, data center, a dedicated satellite capacity and fiber link connection to major international PoPs.”

Innovation is a key theme in the region’s digital development, according to Dayo. Asked about the impact of the digital transition, as many countries are preparing for the switch in June in following with ITU guidelines, Dayo says the main impact will be felt by broadcasters:  the digital transition will “force broadcasting companies to adapt and innovate or simply close shop”. The change will not only affect broadcasters but also telecommunications. Dayo sees the main outcome of the transition will be “innovation that would lead to a knowledge society”.

The main issue for telecom operators is balancing investment in networks and monetisation. Dayo says “content and VAS will be a key driver to generating revenue from data” in the new digital market” but the first LTE deployments in the region have shown that “service affordability is still key to market penetration in the subscriber space”.

Regulators and governments have an important role to play in improving affordable access to high speed networks, by creating “an enabling environment, availability of critical infrastructure such as reliable power/electricity and elimination of double taxation”.

Dayo will be joining the panel discussion on rural telecoms at Connecting West Africa on 9th June, discussing social impact, strategies & technologies in connecting remote areas. For more information on the programme please visit http://westafrica.comworldseries.com/

26 Mar 2015

Tigo Senegal announced as Host Operator of Connecting West Africa, Dakar, 9-10 June



The Connecting West Africa team is pleased to announce that Tigo Senegal will be Host Operator partner at the event in Dakar on 9th and 10th June.

Tigo is part of the international telecommunications and media company Millicom, which has over 50 million customers in 13 countries in Africa and Latin America. Launched in 1999, Tigo Senegal provides GSM, 3G and 3.5G networks to its customers. Over 3 million customers use mobile, Internet and financial services of Tigo. Since 2014, Tigo Senegal has been testing the 4G network and is preparing for the commercial launch when provided with legal authorization.

As a digital services leader, Tigo is perfectly positioned to lead the debate on innovation to monetise data in the broadband era, one of the major themes to be discussed at Connecting West Africa this year. Tigo is innovating and providing new products and services in addition to voice and SMS (mobile financial service Tigo Cash, airtime top-up self-service machine Tigomatic, and Tigo Kiiray, Senegal’s first mobile life insurance service) to accelerate the digital inclusion in the country.

Tigo places great importance in investing in the Senegalese economy, through improving local infrastructure, investing in local talent, or introducing services to help Senegalese businesses. The company invested over $250 million between 2009 and 2013, and $100 million were invested between 2013 and 2014 into the local network, improving Senegal’s digital infrastructure. Tigo also works with a variety of other organisations to improve the quality of education for Senegalese students, and is committed to supporting the health of the local population.

Tigo Senegal's CEO Diego Camberos will be giving an oening keynote presentation at Connecting West Africa, highlighting the company's efforts in digital inclusion. Mr Camberos joined Tigo in 2009 to launch the Rwanda operation and eventually became its CEO. After a successful experience, he was appointed CEO of Tigo Senegal in 2013. He has a developed a rich and diverse experience as having held positions in the areas of Marketing, Distribution and Customer Service. Indeed, he has held various international positions in Latin America at Trilogy in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and worked nearly 10 years at McDonald's in various countries, including Bolivia and Colombia.

Also speaking at the event will be Jean-François Sene, who will join the panel discussion on managing the new digital landsape i Senegal. Mr Sene has 15 years of solid experience in Mobile Telephony. With a Computer Engineer Degree, he first joined Millicom-Senegal from 2000 to 2003 and has held several positions in ISP, IT & Billing. During 8 years, he worked for global Telcos, ICT and infrastructure companies in several countries in Africa, as an executive or consultant. In 2012, he came back to Tigo as CIO and was appointed Head of Corporate Sales in July 2013.



For more information on Connecting West Africa or to register, please click here


23 Mar 2015

Interview with CIO Forum chair Edwin Moindi, Managing Partner at Moindi Consulting

 

Edwin Moindi, Managing Partner at  Moindi Consulting talks to us ahead of East Africaom to give us his insights into the trends and challenges affecting the ICT and telecoms industry within East Africa.

Edwin will be chairing the CIO Forum which will be held on Thursday 7th May, Day Two of East AfricaCom; uncovering the best solutions and future steps towards ICT excellence. To find out more about the CIO Fourm, click here.

East AfricaCom: How is your company positioned in East Africa and what are its future objectives within ICT?

Edwin Moindi: We assist organization in developing economies align technology with their strategic goals. This is achieved collaboratively with clients, by harmonizing global best practice with local dynamics. Our core values, unique interaction with different cultures and internal structures – geared towards client satisfaction – sets us apart.

We partner with businesses and governments that have a preference for excellence in service delivery and who seek thought leadership that brings forth enduring value. Our focus is in establishing long-term relationships and high levels of integrity drive each of our endeavors.

We foresee an increasing desire to attune services to business outcomes in the region. This is a trend that will take root as outsourcing becomes acceptable and as outsourcing in the region moves through the technology adoption cycle. The drive is towards reducing costs, increasing efficiencies and becoming more competitive in line with growth strategies.

We offer services along these lines strategically assisting organizations achieve their strategic objectives using technology.

EAC: What do you think are the 3 major trends that are affecting ICT and telecoms development in the region?

EM: The dropping costs of smart phones and the provisioning of universally accessible and democratized broadband across the region may allow more people to become value creators on the Internet.

Over The Top (OTT) providers will continue to disrupt the telecom industry and force telecoms to look for more innovative ways to compete/collaborate with OTT providers in order to secure and increase their revenues.  I will watch carefully what the internet.org consortium says in the next few months.

Information security will continue to be a major discussion point as organizations embrace big data and cloud computing.

EAC: What are the remaining challenges in terms of connectivity and quality of services in the region and which technologies are most likely to resolve these issues?   

EM: Africa energy needs outstrip its current production. Electricity is a luxury for the urban areas and outages are a constant occurrence. There is need for cheap renewable energy to charge mobile phones and run telecom masts. What this calls for are mobile phones that use less power and have longer capacity batteries, solar chargers that are very cheap to acquire for rural areas, and an incentive in the form of government subsidies and innovation around cost efficient renewable power sources for telecom masts.

The battle between ultra mobile and ultra fixed broadband is currently skewed due to the inherent lack of fixed infrastructure across the region.  While cities and towns across the region are slowly getting connected to fiber through a combination of private and public sector initiatives.

The last mile huddle is still very real to many rural villages in Kenya, and the battle is likely to be won by innovative ‘dirt’ cheap solutions that are privy to the limitations of electricity and offers redundancies when there is need.  I see BRCK being one of these solutions. We cannot also discount advances that will be made by ultra fast low-orbit satellites or the 4G technologies geared for rural areas.

EAC: Do you consider affordability of high-speed connectivity and broadband for both mobile and fixed line is holding back development of SMEs, start-ups and entrepreneurs?

EM: Yes I do. I think more needs to be done to bring down the cost of high-speed connectivity be it mobile or fixed broadband.  I believe this will happen as more people come online across Africa, and the high cost of setting up connectivity infrastructure is spread or absorbed by consortia of public and private institutions.

EAC: In your opinion, which companies are spearheading innovation in the region and what can be learnt from them?  

EM: I think there are quite a number of companies striving to innovate across the region. But for me the team behind BRCK takes the price for their consistent innovation.

EAC: Please share with us what you are looking forward to at East Africacom 2015 and any message would you would like to deliver to the telceoms/ ICT community attending?

EM: I am looking to establish contacts and build relationships. I am also looking to pick the minds of practitioners in the technology ecosystem along the lines of advancing Africa through innovation in the areas of education and healthcare.

East AfricaCom will be taking place on 6-7 May 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information or to register, visit: http://eaafrica.comworldseries.com/

13 Mar 2015

Interview with VAS Africa 2015 speaker Antos Stella, Managing Director of Content Connect Africa



Antos Stella, Managing Director of Content Connect Africa talks to VAS Africa about the digital music industry and how new online distribution channels are supporting African artists reach an international audience.


Antos will be taking part in a panel discussion on 30th June 2015, Day One of VAS Africa, at 14:50 –  How are smart phones and low cost tablets changing consumption and distribution of digital entertainment services? For more information, download the agenda

 

VAS Africa: What is the future of digital services in Africa and what do you think are the top 3 major trends affecting your business in the region?

Antos Stella: CCA’s core business is content and primarily music and music videos. We have seen the demand for content increase right across the continent with the following major trends:

  •     Artists moving towards a business hub that can take their music beyond the borders of origin.
  •     RBT’s continue to be the number one revenue spinner for music, but the introduction of streaming services that are specific to the continent and affordable will be the next major trend.
  •     Using live platforms to attract a consumer base and push revenues up on the platforms.


VAS: Are new online distribution channels  providing an opportunity to expand the reach of African artists to international audiences?

AS: I think that the obvious distribution channels like iTunes have given artists from the continent an opportunity to reach international audiences. However, I think that there needs to be more focus around the marketing of African content to the international audiences before we see a great impact on revenue. I am still not convinced, given the minuscule sales figures, that streaming will be the ground breaker for our artists and musicians globally. Artists from our continent tour the globe tirelessly performing in front of audiences but there is never any focus from the aforesaid or any platforms to push audiences to buy, as they do with international artists.


VAS: Do you feel that  mobile is definitely the future of content distribution, not just music but all forms of content ?

AS: I definitely do believe, given the subscriber base of mobile users, that music and all other forms of content can reach a huge market. We have not even begun to tap into the market.


VAS: Are there infrastructure concerns and issues surrounding internet speeds and data costs that are hampering the growth of online music in Africa ?

AS: I think that speed and data costs are effecting the push to full tracks and VOD services, as the market still remains 80% RBTs. Once we can fix these – the opportunities are endless.


VAS: Any particular current or recent projects/success stories that you want to share?

The introduction of a new RBT platform by MTN SA and a focused music team has grown the RBT market in SA by over 280% – providing much needed revenue for local artists in South Africa.

VAS: What will be your message at the event?

AS: CCA’s business is music, we work with our partners (artists / composers) all over the continent to try and provide new revenue streams. The power of the subscriber base within the network environment is an opportunity to reach an audience who still has music and soccer as their top favourite pastimes and make money whilst reaching millions of fans. In a nutshell its about taking your music directly to your fan base.

VAS Africa will be taking place 30th June - 1st July 2015 - for more information and to register, visit the website: www.comworldseries.com/vasafrica

11 Mar 2015

Satellite-Based Connectivity: The Benefits to African Business... and What’s at Risk










 David Hartshorn
Secretary General
Global VSAT Forum


In recent years, as fiber has begun to be rolled out in major African cities, there was a common assumption that satellite-based connectivity’s days were past. But the introduction of fiber – which is at its best when providing point-to-point links – has actually paved the way for more satellite services to be deployed, providing applications for which they are best suited:  Point-to-multipoint links. 


This can be seen today in enterprise market, where large businesses with widely-dispersed operations increasingly recognize that there are major cost savings to be made through deployment of satellite networks.

As this trend continues, volumes are escalating, economies of scale are increasing, technology improvements are being applied, and the satellite industry is becoming more adept at tailoring not only large-enterprise solutions but also SME and consumer applications. In parallel, another crucial trend is underway in the public sector: National administrations and groups of governments are grappling with how to bridge the so-called "digital divide". National budgets have begun to allocate funding for projects that help fulfil public policy objectives, and improved access to education is among the first to be addressed.

A few developing nations began large-scale deployments of satellite-based distance learning – Ethiopia was among the first – and they reported their successes to their neighbors. Word is spreading to the highest levels of government through inter-governmental dialogues like the World Summit for the Information Society, a program through which heads of state agreed to embrace certain principles - and to achieve tangible results - in closing the communications gap in regions like Africa.

The Battle for C-band Spectrum

Just as the prospects for satellite-based connectivity in Africa are gaining, the systems that operate in the 3.4-4.2 GHz band (C band) began suffering substantial interference, to the point of system failure, in places where national administrations are allowing Broadband Wireless Access systems like Wi-MAX to share the same spectrum bands already being used to provide satellite services.  Worse, the same will happen if 3G and the planned 4G mobile systems (also referred to as IMT systems) are allowed to use the frequencies used in the C band for satellite downlink services as is being contemplated by some African administrations in the context of the International Telecommunication Union World Radiocommunication Conference 2015 (agenda item 1.1).   

To eliminate this harmful interference, operators of satellite earth stations and users of satellite communications services have begun to unite to communicate their positions and technical requirements to national and international telecommunications regulators.  Regulators and radio frequency managers need to allocate spectrum in ways that recognize the reality of harmful interference and validate the right of incumbent operators to operate and to expand services to new customers, and their customers to enjoy their services, without disruption by new users.

C band satellite, and the Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) and IMT mobile services are all important services, and there are ways to find suitable spectrum for all of them to operate. 

Several African national administrations have designated portions of the frequency band 3.4 – 4.2 GHz for terrestrial wireless applications such as BWA and future mobile services (“IMT advanced”, Beyond 3G, 4G…).  This band is already in use by satellite services, radar systems, and domestic microwave links.  This band is commonly referred to as the C band.
In places where administrations have allowed BWA services to use the C band, there have been massive interruptions of satellite services.  Interference with radars and microwave links, which also operate in these frequencies, is likely. 

Use of the C-band for satellite communications is widespread throughout Africa.  It is particularly vital for corporate communications in many developing countries, because of its resilience in the presence of heavy rain.  C-band earth stations are also used extensively in many developed countries.     C-band (“Standard C-Band” and “Extended C band” ) frequencies have been assigned for satellite downlinks since the industry was inaugurated more than 40 years ago. 

C-band services cover large areas.  They facilitate intercontinental and global communications, and provide a wide range of services in developing countries.  Services in this band now provide critical applications such as not only distance learning, but also telemedicine, universal access, disaster recovery and television transmission in many regions.  

C-band services are especially important for Africa.  The supporting equipment is relatively inexpensive and the signals easily cover large areas.  Such services are well adapted to provide voice, data services and internet connectivity in remote areas underserved by other communications means.   They are an essential component in the ITU’s push to bridge the “digital divide” between the developed and developing world.  Because they cover wide areas with minimal susceptibility to rain fade, they have proven to be exceptionally useful in tropical areas.

It is important to understand that satellite transmissions in the 3.4 – 4.2 GHz band are received by a large number of stations worldwide.  Many of these stations are “receive only”, and are therefore not registered at the ITU (or generally even with the local administrations) since such registration is not required. Co-frequency operation of BWA systems would severely disrupt reception of satellite transmissions.

It must be emphasized that operation of wireless systems at C-band frequencies will not only cause interference to existing customers receiving satellite signals in this band, but it will virtually eliminate any further expansion of satellite service to new customers and regions given the incompatibility between the two systems. This will in turn lead to an eventual stagnation of satellite business in this band.

Fortunately, this is not an insoluble problem.   Many other candidate bands have been identified during the course of ITU studies.  The merits of these have been documented at length and the alternatives will be presented to the ITU WRC-15.

It is critical that governments and spectrum management authorities recognize the very real damage caused, and tremendous threat posed, to satellite services by use of the Standard C and Extended C-bands for terrestrial wireless systems.  

A real effort to use alternatives must begin immediately. Time and again, the satellite industry has demonstrated that it is an unbeatable value proposition in supporting point-to-multi-point applications. It was demonstrated in corporate networks. It was demonstrated in DBS. It was demonstrated next in digital radio. And now it’s being demonstrated as a complement to fiber. This will be an enduring source of business for Africa for years to come.

[1] The bands 3.4-3.7 GHz and 3.7-4.2 GHz are usually referred to as Extended C-Band and Standard C-Band, respectively.  


The Global VSAT Forum are the Official Endorsing Association for East AfricaCom which will be taking place this 6th - 7th May in Nairobi, Keyna. For more information on the event, or to register, visit: http://eaafrica.comworldseries.com/