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Satellite key for African connectivity in 2024 – Hughes

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In 2024, the satellite industry will play a significant role in enabling Internet access for individuals, communities and businesses in more underserved regions such as Africa.

That's the view of Vaibhav Magow, VP of the international division at Hughes Network Systems, who spoke to Connecting Africa in an interview.

"I believe we will continue to see wider adoption of 4G, cloud applications and community Wi-Fi to increase connectivity across regions in Africa. The number one priority for the satellite industry when it comes to connectivity advancements will be serving broadband needs and requirements for communities lacking access to high-speed Internet," he said.

"However, satellites alone cannot reach the goal of connecting everyone, so we will see the satellite industry rely on rolling out new technologies such as 5G in rural areas," he added.

Hughes is a broadband satellite services and managed network solutions provider and is credited with pioneering the technology that made online access from satellites possible in the 1990s.

Magow said it's clear that there will continue to be growth in basic cellular services throughout Africa and network operators are building cell towers as rapidly as they can to provide connectivity to unserved areas.

"Satellite backhaul will play a vital role in sustaining the growth of these networks and bringing more communities online. One trend we're seeing is that network operators are looking to upgrade from 2G and 3G to 4G network services. In some areas, 5G may even be feasible," he explained.

As for satellite direct to mobile phones, he believes this is in the future and Hughes is reviewing ideas and technologies globally to make it a reality.

Africa's satellite market

Across Africa, Hughes is both an equipment and service provider, equipping underserved and remote areas in Africa with ground systems, remote terminals and satellite services to remain connected.

"We believe that access to 4G and, where appropriate, 5G service is critical to Africa. We provide cellular backhaul services to support these deployments," Magow said.

On the continent its customers include governments, mobile network operators (MNOs) and virtual network operators (VNOs) but Magow couldn't disclose specifics on its clients.

"In Africa, a strong market continues to be Egypt, as Hughes continues to maintain a successful partnership with the country's telecommunication providers. Other strong markets in Africa include South Africa and Nigeria due to strong economic backbones and advanced technology networks," Magow said.

"I believe that these regions will be some of the first to deploy wide, 5G networks," he continued.

One market that may be considered as having the potential for growth is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), due to its large size and widely dispersed population. Hughes and Intelsat have partnered for over a decade to build cell towers in the DRC's most rural areas.

Hughes is an equipment and service provider, providing underserved areas with ground systems, remote terminals and satellite services.   (Source: Image by liuzishan on Freepik)
Hughes is an equipment and service provider, providing underserved areas with ground systems, remote terminals and satellite services.
(Source: Image by liuzishan on Freepik)

"Since inventing satellite Internet more than 25 years ago, Hughes has been committed to continuously improving our service. Across the Americas, our Jupiter fleet of satellites have helped us deliver faster speeds and more reliable Internet experiences across each generation," Magow said.

"In Africa, we use some of the very same technology in our Jupiter System ground platform to power cellular backhaul services for MNOs across the continent," he added.

In June 2022, Hughes successfully tested 5G satellite backhaul on its Jupiter System, giving customers across Africa "a roadmap to transition from LTE traffic today to 5G tomorrow", he said.

Satellite interest grows

There has been more interest in satellite recently with companies like SpaceX's Starlink and OneWeb using low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to launch services in a number of African countries.

In September 2023, OneWeb combined its LEO network with Eutelsat's geostationary (GEO) satellite operations to become Eutelsat OneWeb.

Hughes has engineered the ground systems for a number of LEO constellations, including Iridium and Globalstar, and is also a OneWeb technology partner, authorized distributor and investor.

Magow believes the company has unique technology expertise and insight into the OneWeb system.

"We supplied the technology expertise behind OneWeb's gateway electronics and core modules. We understand this technology better than anyone else because we built it," he explained.

He said LEO satellites are known to deliver reliable, low-latency broadband Internet services.

"In Africa, we'll soon see operators deploy hybrid GEO and LEO services that utilize multiple orbits to deliver services. These hybrid networks will be optimized for different use cases, with LEO satellites relaying latency-intensive traffic and GEO handling denser, higher-throughput traffic to keep costs down," he said.

Follow Connecting Africa on our new X account @connect__africa to get the latest telecoms and tech news across Africa.

In July 2023, the Hughes Jupiter System ground platform was also selected by Africa Mobile Networks (AMN) to backhaul 2G, 3G and 4G cellular network traffic in Madagascar and Nigeria.

AMN builds, owns and operates mobile network basestations serving rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and recently expanded into Latin America. The tower company has over 4,000 sites in 15 countries.

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*Top image is of Vaibhav Magow, VP of the international division at Hughes Network Systems. (Source: Hughes)

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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