Africa’s poor to benefit from new satellite
By Samuel Otieno and Maseme Machuka
Saturday December 22, 2007
A dream to have digital rural villages in Kenya is making strides into reality with the first pan-African Telecommunications satellite system launch into orbit next week. The satellite system, Regional African Satellite Communication Organisation (Rascom), designed by a Kenyan engineer, Mr James Rege, will be launched on December 28. Once it is operationalised, the satellite is expected cut down communication cost and make it possible for the continent’s poor to have access to affordable communication products. The operator, Rascom, expect the system to provide a range of value-added services to all countries of Africa.
The services would, among others, include provision of telecommunications services in rural areas on a large scale at low costs by using appropriate technology. It would also enable the development of inter-urban links within the interior of each of the African countries. The system is also expected to provide direct links between all the African countries without exception. This, the operator says, would save several of millions of dollars paid out annually to operators outside the continent as transit charges for intra-African traffic.
Initially, most countries in Africa had no satellite system forcing them to rely heavily on world satellites such as Intel Sat, Arab Sat, Asia Sat, and so on. Kenya as a member country that contributed to the development of Rascom 1, has paid $2million for membership. Once it is launched, the satellite will provide the communication footprint in Africa, broadband for rural areas to assist in the schools’ Internet connectivity at a cheaper rate.
The system will also facilitate television broadcasting, Internet and other value-added services.
Local television broadcast stations will benefit from the satellite since they will be able to use Rascom satellite to put up a signal, that can be seen anywhere in Africa. Rascom has identified its customers Telecommunication firms, Internet Service Providers, TV Broadcasters and any data content Providers. "It will be a lot cheaper than the system they are using now. KTN can use because the footprint covers the entire landmass of Africa," says Rege. "What they need to do is to go anywhere and put antennae receivers then they will be able to receive the signal and broadcast it locally at a cheap rate". People around Africa who have laptops and satellite dishes can also access bandwidth as well as distribute it around. "They can access broadband and access movies on their mobile phones, access Internet at higher speed," he says.
Experts put the cost that will be saved after the satellite system will be launched at 20 percent down from the current rates they are currently experiencing. The journey to the Rascom 1 satellite began in 1994 when a Kenyan ICT wizard, Rege, partnered with Dr Adaja Gundo to spearhead the first African Satellite. The aim of the satellite was to provide a footprint, which will cover the entire landmass of the African continent from Tunisia to Cape Town, from Cape verd to Mauritius.
Rege was the first engineer to design the footprints back in 1994 and later left the work after four years to go back to the United States where he was studying.But today, the satellite system is all finished based on the data Rege left. "It is going to be the thing that we ever had," says Rege in an interview with The Standard. He adds: "Most satellite communications, when they are providing footprint in Africa they always look at lucrative countries like South Africa so when they design the satellite, they only put footprints there because there is where they will make money forgetting about other parts of Africa."
Rascom 1 is going to provide a lot of bandwidth for communication in Africa. As a result, the cost of Internet will be lowered because entry of Rascom 1 will bring stiff competition in providing the satellite services in Africa. The existing local satellites system providers will be forced to reduce their cost because there is competition. "To make it good is the fact that it belongs to us Africans. The benefit of a satellite is the fact that the signal is available everywhere, it is not like point-to-point fibre optics," says Rege.
Arianespace, the global launch Service & Solutions Company, has confirmed Rascom 1 is one of the two systems to be launched by its Arianespace’s 5 GS mission from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana this month. In its Mission Update of December 6, 2007 Rascom 1, named after its operator, Regional African Satellite Communication Organisation (Rascom), is in the process of being connected to the launch vehicle. "Two satellites have reached new milestones in their pre-flight preparation, with Rascom 1 advancing closer to integration with the launcher at Europe’s Spaceport" says Rege.
Last month, Africa Development Bank (ADB), Group President, Mr Donald Kaberuka, said the continent would have its first satellite by the end of this year. Kaberuka said the satellite would enable Africans to easily communicate with other people across the globe and within the continent. The Bank Group and other development partners are funding the satellite project. Rascom 1 is the first dedicated Pan-African telecommunications satellite and was built by Thales Alenia Space.