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Digital Inclusion

Intelsat, AMN expand rural connectivity in Madagascar

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Satellite operator Intelsat and off-grid tower provider Africa Mobile Networks (AMN) are working to connect 500 sites in rural Madagascar. Meanwhile, Intelsat has also announced it will modernize more than 900 sites for telecommunications infrastructure provider Openserve in South Africa.

On the AMN project in Madagascar, Intelsat said it will be providing first-time phone broadband services to rural populations across the country.

To date, 65 sites are up and running with a goal to connect 120 sites by the end of March 2024. At that point, 200,000 people will have access to telecommunication services where no coverage previously had been available from any network operator, Intelsat confirmed in a statement.

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.

Together, Intelsat and AMN have deployed more than 3,000 rural base satellite antennas across Africa since 2018, providing telecom services to more than 8 million people.

According to the GSMA, Madagascar has a Global Connectivity Index rating of 32.5, meaning it is an emerging digital market where the adoption of technology is just taking shape.

The government is committed to increasing access to digital services, with the Digital and Energy Connectivity for Inclusion in Madagascar (DECIM) project launched in 2023, focusing on deploying infrastructure in underserved areas.

Rural connectivity challenges and community buy-in

Connecting Madagascar can be a challenge, however, with 60% of the population living in rural areas, most of which are difficult to access and some being beyond the reach of the country's power grid.

Starting the project during Madagascar's rainy season also came with challenges while transporting equipment to network sites.

For example, a recent deployment in Vilanandro on the northwest coast proved difficult with limited road access to the city of 1,800 inhabitants. The 700km trip from Antananarivo, the country's capital, to Vilanandro took the AMN crew 15 days to complete via national roads, dirt roads and ferries.

"Techs deployed equipment by using carts pulled by livestock and sometimes canoes to carry terminals and equipment to the final destination. All this would not have been possible without the help of village volunteers, who helped carry equipment on foot to reach the final site location," Intelsat explained.

Livestock and carts were used to pull equipment during the difficult journey to the Vilanandro network site.   (Source: AMN)
Livestock and carts were used to pull equipment during the difficult journey to the Vilanandro network site.
(Source: AMN)

A combination of Intelsat's satellite backhaul and AMN's unique off-grid site design means that even the most remote locations can be connected to mobile broadband.

"Since the connectivity has been set up, a local farmer who previously had to wait for postal orders can now check everything online, while the school now has access to a broader range of courses available online," Intelsat added.

AMN specializes in connecting communities, reducing upfront and ongoing equipment costs while allowing cell services to be extended into areas that traditionally would not have been economically viable.

"Our focus really is on the rural and ultra-rural areas, where there's usually no grid electricity, there's no line of sight to other macro towers and there's no fiber connectivity. We focus on the areas where no one else is and it's not easy for anyone else to go," Jennifer Darcy, AMN project manager, told Connecting Africa in an interview last year.

In July 2023, AMN also started using the Hughes Jupiter System ground platform to backhaul 2G, 3G and 4G cellular network traffic in Madagascar and Nigeria.

Intelsat, Openserve advance connectivity throughout South Africa

On Tuesday, Intelsat also announced it had renewed and expanded a longstanding relationship with South African telecommunications infrastructure provider Openserve, which is part of the Telkom South Africa group.

The extended partnership includes the modernization of more than 900 sites for Openserve, which has the largest fixed broadband network in the country.

Intelsat said the project will improve performance of the Openserve network and help deliver higher throughputs to end-customers at a lower cost. The improved performance and modernization will enhance services to businesses, organizations and communities in SA's hard-to-reach areas.


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


"Through this renewed collaboration, Openserve will modernize its network infrastructure and tap into Intelsat's advanced technology and global network, to deliver enhanced, highly reliable and dependable connectivity solutions that meet the evolving demands of enterprises, governments, businesses and communities across South Africa," said Rhys Morgan, regional vice president for EMEA sales at Intelsat.

The Openserve infrastructure upgrades are underway and on track to be completed by end of June 2024.

Related posts:

*Top image is of a remote location in Madagascar where AMN and Intelsat have deployed rural connectivity. (Source: AMN.)

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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