Recent developments in the global satellite industry have brought hope for improved connectivity in Africa. Several satellite operators, including Starlink, Eutelsat OneWeb, SES O3b mPOWER, Amazon Kuiper, and Mangata Networks, have expressed their interest in bridging the digital divide and addressing the connectivity gap on the continent.
While all these operators have similar goals, their service offerings, delivery models, and target markets differ significantly. In order to close the connectivity gap, it is important to examine the various business case elements and determine the feasibility of these services.
A recent study by the World Bank Group in 2022 revealed that only 11.2% of Africa’s population has access to a computer or tablet, indicating a significant digital divide. However, access to mobile phones and electricity is comparatively higher, with 76% of individuals having access to a phone. This highlights the need for improved internet access in the region.
Affordability is a key factor in determining the success of satellite operators in Africa. A study on mobile data pricing showed that North African countries generally offer cheaper rates compared to the global average. Starlink, for example, is advertised in Nigeria at an affordable price of 50 cents per GB, making it within the range of current mobile data rates.
In terms of network capacity, satellite constellations must be able to meet the expected demand. It is estimated that LEO networks would need to deliver 1.8 Tbps capacity across Nigeria to serve 500,000 subscribers. The capacity of Starlink’s V1.5 satellites is listed as 20 Gbps per satellite, indicating that a total of 90 satellites would be required to meet this demand. Therefore, LEO constellations have the potential to meet a significant portion of the bandwidth demand caused by the digital divide.
Market engagement is another important aspect to consider. Unlike mobile operators, LEO operators primarily invest in space assets rather than ground infrastructure. This allows for a “zero-touch” go-to-market delivery model, which can provide immediate access to the market through online sales channels. However, the success of this approach in Africa depends on factors such as regulatory compliance, payment options, and logistical support.
In conclusion, the future of satellite connectivity in Africa holds promise for bridging the digital divide. With affordable pricing, sufficient network capacity, and effective market engagement strategies, LEO, MEO, and GEO satellite operators have the potential to make a meaningful impact in improving connectivity on the continent.