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Wireless Technologies Connecting the Most Remote Regions of Africa

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Africa is proving to be a fascinating broadband case study, with technology innovation being used as a way to compensate for the often-expensive process in laying fibre optic cables to cover the entire continent.

The size of the African continent, coupled with a combination of unfavourable weather, remote locations, and topographical challenges has meant that rollouts of fibre optics have often been taking longer and costing more than other continents and nations have experienced. Plus, the diverse range of nations and the political climate of the region have created areas where levies are expensive to navigate through.

In some locations, laying down fibre optic cables has been as expensive as $175 a metre, and this prohibitively expensive cost has meant innovative telecommunications companies have looked to alternatives to help broaden the reach of Internet services.

One company, Liquid Telecom Kenya, has developed technology called Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT). As an alternative to fibre connectivity, VSAT addresses what is called “last mile connectivity” challenges, in that it still allows customers within a certain distance of the terminal to connect to the Internet without needing to lay fibre down all the way to their front door.

As a benefit that is unique to parts of remote Africa, VSAT also allows Internet connectivity to regions without full and reliable electricity. Only the premises where the terminal is in use require power, which means properties not properly connected to the grid (perhaps using generators) will still be able to connect, as long as the terminal is powered. This technology will be a boon to those remote communities that will benefit from access to the Internet, but have previously lacked the vital infrastructure to get computers online.

This technology is combined with High Throughput Satellites (HTS) that can, through VSAT terminals, deliver Internet speeds equivalent to services provided over fibre, and can be offered far more cheaply. Taking the cost of laying down fibre networks to remote parts of Africa, this technology solution is able to deliver the Internet to Africans for around 30 per cent of the cost that it would take to offer them fibre services.

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